During the build up to the recent elections in UP, as most of the old guard of Indian politics stuck to generic campaign messages about basic amenities, Akhilesh Yadav was quoted saying that social media was an “equalizer” that had breached caste, class and the rural-urban divides in the state. Thankfully, his actions on social media websites echoed this belief.
The scion of the Yadav clan – who is personally active on Facebook and Twitter – sent a clear message by highlighting his tech-savvy outlook in order to reach out to new demographics of voters. In fact, Akhilesh Yadav replicated the “approachable” image he created during campaign rallies online – on Facebook, in particular, the Samajwadi Party’s page was much more of an organic, two-way, interactive, and engaging experience for users than the other parties’ efforts.
What Other Parties Did On Social Media
The Congress – The Congress in UP created a Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/CongressForUP)that has managed to get a higher number of fans than the Samajwadi Party, but this page has become a battleground in more than one sense. Firstly, the Congress’ own posts are less about the Party’s policies or concrete solutions that it can offer. Instead, most of the posts are used to combat the brickbats that it receives from opposition. By descending into a raucous tit-for-tat online, the Congress not only wastes precious online space and looks like the equivalent of a petty schoolchild fighting back, but also sets an ugly tone for its page. This is the second reason the page is like a battleground – a quick look at the comments will show how a vast majority of them are unfavorable and anti-Congress. This, coupled with the fact that the Congress did not engage users enough through interactive features or replies, led to a page that probably did more harm than good for the Congress. On Twitter (https://twitter.com/CongressForUP), the Congress’ posts are infrequent and are just reposts of their Facebook content – linked through a third-party service. This, in social media terms, amounts to unforgivable laziness. Finally, the series of Youtube videos released by the Indian Youth Congress (http://www.youtube.com/user/indianyouthcongress) are dull and offer no engagement whatsoever – probably a good reason why the most watched video from their latest 10 videos has only 70 views. That’s 70 – not 70 thousand as it should be, but 70 the kind of number that you watch your own video enough!
The BSP – The BSP missed a golden opportunity by not creating any active profiles on social media websites at all. In a sense, they probably felt that their core base of support would be unaffected by a social media push, but they definitely missed an opportunity to engage a new demographic through social media. The only, feeble attempt by the BSP came in terms of a Blog (http://blog.bspindia.org/), written entirely in Hindi. Sadly, though, the content of the blog focused mostly on venting against political opponents instead of highlighting their achievements or policies. The commenting frequency and engagement by the blog administrator are low – all round leading to a poor social media push.
The BJP – The BJP has always prided itself on being the most tech-savvy political party and while its push in terms of social media deserves credit for creativity and vision, its execution is what lets it down. Apart from unremarkable Facebook and Twitter accounts that mostly serve as one-way communication portals with a bland tone, the BJP also tried alternative technologies to attract voters. One of their newest innovations was an Android Mobile App (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.bjp&feature=search_result#?t=W251bGwsMSwxLDEsImNvbS5ianAiXQ..) and while this seemed like a good idea, the app is actually very buggy, slow-responding, and limited in terms of what it can achieve. Plus, with a tacky design and formatting issues, the app seems more like a high school project than the work of a major political party. Finally, the BJP also launched an Internet TV channel called Yuva TV (http://yuva4india.tv/), meant to serve as a portal for live broadcasts and videos. However, once again a poor design, bad engagement, and lack of exciting content has let this good idea down.
What These Parties Can Learn from the SP
1) Don’t be Afraid of Facebook Advertising – The SP ran a successful Facebook advertising campaign that appeared in the sidebar of Facebook users asking them to select which areas and policies the next UP Chief Minister should concentrate on. The ad redirected users to the SP’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/samajwadiparty), but the ad’s interactive design not only makes it more engaging to users, but also sets the tone for an interactive Facebook page.
2) Embrace the Facebook Timeline – The SP set the trend of political parties by switching to the new timeline format for Facebook well before all their political opponents – in fact, they beat most Indian corporates to it. This not only signifies a desire to stay relevant by adapting to new technology, but also allowed them to tailor the new format to design their page in a particular way to meet their needs.
3) Engage the Users – The Facebook page of the SP is defined by its interactive conversations, engaging content, and user-friendly interface. The idea is that users are encouraged to contribute to the posts; this is not a one-way conversation. In fact, the slick Youtube videos (http://www.youtube.com/user/samajwadipartyIndia?feature=watch) produced by the party have also attracted not only a lot of eyeballs, but plenty of engaged discussions as well.
4) Concentrate on Achievements – Instead of using social media platforms to attack opponents and fight rumors, the SP instead focused on their own achievements and goals for UP. This helps set the tone of the page and helps attract genuine followers who will fill the page with more optimistic and less vitriolic comments.
5) If You Can’t Handle It, Outsource It – Clearly, the SP’s social media strategy was handled by social media and digital PR experts from outside the party. And clearly, it has worked for them. Instead of handing social media duties to an aging, bureaucratic IT department within the Party, more political parties should seek digital PR help to help create vibrant, exciting social media profiles that are consistent with user trends and able to reach out to a wider audience.