When Kapil Sibal announced last year, that the Congress’ social media budget is 100cr, the figure sent India’s digital market into a tizzy. Analysts were stumped trying to figure out the implications of the huge spend. Now with a month away from the election, the tremendous influence of social on the elections of 2014 is evident. A google survey says that the results in about 30% of loksabha seats will be influenced by social media. With about 25 percent of the country’s voting population on social media, the survey may not be far off its mark.
Media plays a pivotal role in shaping public opinion in any election around the world. Be it Obama’s billion dollar campaign on social in the run-up to the us presidential elections or the Sun’s aggressive stand against Gordon Brown, the media is a huge influencer. Social push up the scope of influence by several notches. The disintermediation of media, the direct connect with the public, the high adoption among young voters, the high referentiability make it the ideal place to run opinion campaigns on. And political outfits have jumped on the bandwagon. Narendra Modi, Arvind Kejriwal and Congress are using social as their primary PR channel. The supporters have also pitched in with bitter political wars being fought on the twitter walls. A analysis done by analytics company Simplify 360 shows that there is primary correlation between the social media buzz and the Delhi election results. The correlation may well continue into the national canvas. The political parties understand the importance and are investing heavily in social. Sources in Komli media which runs twitter campaigns comment on the huge amount of money leading parties are spending on twitter. The parties have full fledged advisors and huge social teams. BJP has a 600 plus in house team. Congress works with an army of agencies. The newest entrant to Indian politics, AAP has an array of articulate politicians and supporters on social. Sources close to Yogendra Yadav of AAP confirm that AAP does not have a professional team or huge social media funds. Little surprising that its grip on the social channels has been loosening gradually.
With so much political interest in social media, it is not surprising that the channels are cashing in on the election mania. Twitter top executives reportedly flew down from us to meet top politicians in the run up to the poll. Twitter India head Rishi Jaitly, in his ET interview, confirmed that twitter is betting high on politics and also setting up a dedicated vertical for it. Facebook which lagged a little behind has made up with election dashboards, sponsored ads and Facebook chats featuring national leaders. Google had taken an early lead in public town halls aired through its hangout platform.
The battle on social has not been completely ethical. Alleged fake accounts,smear campaigns, vicious trolls, doctored stories have been rampant. So a democratic social media is also being flipped around to sow partisanship and plant opinions. While social media ideally represent the mood of the people, the current scenario reveals a desperate attempt to influence that mood. A discretion is advised while you read someones political tweets or air your own opinions. But to sum it up, the worlds largest democracy should be discerning enough to make the best choice. And rationally judge social conversations, sponsored ads and the political campaigns. May the best man or woman win!