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Of engagement, not achievement: Indian political parties’ digital mantra

Co-creating manifestos, answering queries real time, releasing online campaigns stressing call-to-action, sounds like the digital mandate of any popular brand. However, this is the new strategy adopted by major political parties in India ahead of the much-awaited General Elections in May 2014. This season has seen maximum investment in digital media platforms in a strategic manner to engage young voters. It is interesting to note how the electoral propaganda and manifestos are not blatantly highlighting the parties’ achievements, as has been the case over the years, but the power of digital media is being harnessed to engage the population. This is how a greater recall, loyalty and conversion – from followers to actual voters – is being created in a disruptive manner. With India being named a strategic investment destination, the whole world has eyes set on the upcoming General Elections in India, and this is perhaps the first time that digital media is playing an active role in the biggest political event of the largest democracy.

The 2014 General Elections will see 149 million first-time voters. India has close to 165 million internet users. Even though this is a fraction of the total voting population of around 700 million, these are the key amplifiers who are actively engaging in political debates and influencing opinion. Thus, digital media strategies are now part of the overall campaign briefs, and parties are spending an increasing amount of time and resources to mobilise netizens. The differentiating factor will remain how each party utilises digital media to engage and create a tangible difference. The RoI in this case will revolve around steering the voting class to turn up on Election Day.
While Narendra Modi, Prime Ministerial candidate from the opposition, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) remains most prominent on the digital platforms, the others are also seeing substantial presence and acceptance. As per a study by Blogworks, Mr Modi emerged as the most mentioned political leader in the social media space. Google’s 2013 Zeigeist reinforced this further saying that Mr Modi was the most searched Indian politician on Google, and his coronation as BJP’s prime ministerial candidate was the most searched news event in 2013.

His official Facebook page has garnered close to 8 million fans, and has close to 3 million followers on his official Twitter handle. His social media presence is quite high as the official pages release around 4-5 posts daily. In yet another first for an Indian politician, Mr Modi also conducted a special Google+ Hangout and answered questions raised by his followers. The two-hour video broadcast in September 2013 on Google+ was watched by 82,000 people live on YouTube from 116 countries. He kickstarted the year 2014 with another big digital expansion – the launch of the app ‘India 272+’ (272 seats at the Centre being the target of BJP). The mobile application enables volunteers to participate in open fora and share thoughts, ideas for upcoming speeches by Mr Modi. Also, it has social media integration to popular platforms as well as WhatsApp. All these initiatives speak of the massive digital engagement drive planned by BJP.
Prime Ministerial candidate Rahul Gandhi, from the ruling party – Indian National Congress has reportedly hired agencies Genesis Burson-Marsteller, Dentsu and JWT to professionally handle the image management, including that on social media. It will be interesting to watch this development take shape over the coming few months as it will be a challenging space for the agencies, considering that Rahul Gandhi has never held a portfolio in any government in India. This will be the best chance to harness engagement opportunities than focus on achievements of the leader.

But the ‘brand’ that saw highest growth rate was new-entrant Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). It took to social media with a storm but meticulously refrained from advertising the ‘achievements’ or even qualifications of its leaders. The party’s official Facebook page has 13 million likes, while Mr Kejriwal’s official Facebook page has 3 million likes. On Twitter too, the party has close to 3 million followers, while Mr Kejriwal himself has around 1 million followers. The digital platforms have high engagement initiatives to reach out to the masses via interactive sessions. With social media, the key messaging of the party is kept consistent and transparent