Impact of social media on Delhi Elections 2015Did poll campaign and social media go hand in hand in 2015 Delhi election?

The high-voltage campaigning through social media paid rich dividends to the Aam Aadmi Party this Delhi election. The party was way ahead of its rivals – the Bharatiya Janata Party as well as the Congress – in using the new media even in 2013.

Remember, how during the 2013 Delhi assembly election, the election commission was caught off guard and had to acknowledge that there were loopholes in monitoring such social media campaigns. Much to its dismay, the election commission discovered that it was virtually “impossible to keep track of so many conversations”!

The 2014 general elections and the 2015 Delhi elections prove that social media campaigning has come of age in the country with the ever growing reach of internet. With 100 per cent social media penetration in the national capital, it was only to be expected that the political parties exploited this new media to the hilt. Not surprisingly, those who lagged behind in leveraging the potential of online campaigning failed miserably at the hustings.

The failure of time-tested conventional tactics such as door-to-door campaigning, especially by the Congress party, also proves that with a new breed of technology-savvy young voters, web is the new battleground for political parties and its significance cannot be ignored.

Does it mean end of the road for conventional method of campaigning?

Both the AAP and the BJP too resorted to such conventional methods by spending hugely on billboards, radio, television and newspaper advertisements as well as road shows and door-to-door canvassing.

Yet, it was the effective internet-based campaigning that unarguably gave them an edge over the Congress because:

  1. Both the AAP and the BJP were in a better position to gauge the public mood on social networking sites
  2. Both the parties were able to reach out to millions of followers with clarifications and messages

Besides, what made campaigning through social media different from other mass media was that it made way for assessing impact in a tangible manner as there was no ambiguity over the target audience. There were over 26 lakh Twitter followers and over one crore Facebook likes shared between the three political rivals (though the Congress was at the lowest rung!).

Just consider how the Delhi Congress, fairly new to the social media forum, already lost the race when it managed to get only about 44,000 likes on Facebook and just about four thousand followings on Twitter handle @dpcc while its arch rival, the Delhi BJP, flaunted about 15 lakh likes on Facebook and about 44,000 followers on Twitter (@BJPDelhiState). The AAP was still far ahead of the Delhi Congress and was almost neck to neck with the BJP with 44,100 followers on Twitter, and though behind the Delhi BJP in terms of Facebook likes, was still much ahead of the Congress with about 6.5 lakh likes (all figures updated on 10 February, 2015).

Besides, even the personal Twitter handle of the AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal had 3.51 million followers. which was almost the same as the BJP’s CM candidate, Kiran Bedi’s 3.88 million followers. (It may be mentioned that Bedi, even before entering the fray, was an icon by herself – being the first woman India Police Service Officer). In sharp contrast, the Congress’ election face, Ajay Maken had just about three lakh followers on Twitter!

What social media strategy did AAP, BJP and Congress adopt?

It is interesting to know the social media campaign strategy of the respective parties. Like earlier elections, each had special cells for social media campaigning.

The AAP did have a Twitter bias on grounds that Facebook, as a broadcast medium had lesser reach as not much interaction was possible and “one can only suggest”. Hence, the AAP strategy was more directed towards Twitter which it considered “more organic… (and) a more direct medium to engage in discussion, debate and reasoning”. Its strategists felt that Twitter was more suitable a medium “to change public perception”.

It may be pointed out here that after the success of the Indian elections, all major social networking sites have realised the need for technological upgradation, considering elections to be a major market for such sites. Consider how in Brazil, Twitter encouraged leaders to use Twitter and Vine while Facebook introduced the “I am a voter” option in different countries and also hashtags to its platform that worked much like Twitter!

Yet, this is not enough and Delhi elections found the political parties exploring innovative applications for a wider reach. The AAP’s official Mango App on Android is one such example. It allowed Kejriwal’s followers not just to listen to his speeches and the ones delivered by his party members but also participate in their public interactions.

Yet another example was that of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Selfie booths at various places, ostensibly to woo the youth and first-time voters as they could get a picture clicked with Modi with an app in these booths and upload them.

Obviously, technological advancements within the social media platform guided campaigning strategy of political parties. While the BJP used such technology for streaming live speeches, rallies and press conferences of its leaders, it also created a repository of these on YouTube.(Consider Modi’s hangouts on YouTube).

A group of ten volunteers at IIT-Bombay, created a research tool for the AAP to measure public opinion by trawling social media posts to help the party chalk out a clear election strategy vis a vis the public opinion. Such technology driven “sentiment analysis” did help the AAP fine-tune its strategy and move away from perceptibly “negative” issues and towards issues like women’s safety which was “consonant with voter sentiment” in the national capital.

The AAP had set up a 16-member core team in Delhi to handle social media campaigns. It was aided by 200 volunteers and also another 55 members who were operating from across the country and abroad. The BJP, on its part, seemed more aggressive with about 1,000 volunteers deployed from IT companies and BPOs for its social media campaign. In sharp contrast to both, the Congress just had a team of a dozen full-time volunteers who were aided by about 70 others who worked for about seven to eight hours from home for the party’s social media campaign.

Will the poll defeat compel the Congress to reconsider its campaign strategy and shift to social media?

Obviously, the social media has enabled targeted ads for each constituency. This indeed played a big role in the AAP’s success in both the 2013 and 2015 assembly elections in Delhi.

The number of the users of social networking sites Facebook and Twitter is already touching about 150 million in the country and hence, relevance of social media will only sky-rocket from here in “digital India”. Yet, it would be a question of who has a better strategy to use this platform. Definitely, the AAP scored on this count in Delhi this time.