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Everything You Need to Know About Social Media and India's General Election

BY Jessica McKenzie | Wednesday, April 9 2014

A screenshot of today's Google Score

The biggest democratic election in the world to date is taking place in India from April 7 to May 14, and, for the first time in India, the results might hinge on who runs a better social media campaign. The Mumbai research firm Iris Knowledge Foundation has said that Facebook will “wield a tremendous influence” but Indian politicians are not limiting their attentions to India's most popular social media platform. In addition to virtual campaigning are initiatives to inform, educate and encourage Indians to participate in their democracy.

Keeping Up with the Candidates

As techPresident has previously reported, Facebook got involved in Indian politics last year when the company partnered with the Times of India for a get-out-the-vote campaign. In March they launched an election tracker and a series of town hall conversations called Facebook Talks Live, in which candidates responded to questions posed by Facebook users.

(Narendra Modi, the National Democratic Alliance candidate for prime minister, backed out of Facebook Talks Live just before he was scheduled to appear as the first guest of the series. Some report he canceled because of another television partnership, whereas others say he backed out because of the kind of questions Facebook users had submitted.)

Google launched their own elections portal—imagined as a one stop shop for voters—in December. Like Facebook, the portal has election-related videos and recorded Google Hangouts, and Google tracks the amount of search activity around candidates, updating a list of the five with the highest “Google Score” every day.

Google has also partnered with Storyful to produce their Open Elections India Google+ page, which will feature content curated by Storyful journalists and “key partners” about election issues and candidates.

Social Somosa is also running an election tracker, another one stop shop for “all social media conversations around the 2014 general elections,” and for tracking popularity—based on followers and engagement—on major social media platforms.

Global Voices reports that the election awareness initiative run by the company Tate Tea, Jaago Re, is sponsoring a campaign to get women to the polls called the Power of 49. (Women in India represent 49 percent of the electoral base but are less likely to vote than men.)

Big Data Tactics

The Washington Post published an interesting article on the “Obama-style” campaign tactics being used by some of the candidates, including the micro-targeting of specific groups.

“[Narendra] Modi’s followers run war rooms in three cities,” the Post reports, “with social media and speechwriting teams that can fine-tune his message for specific groups.”

Campaign analysts translated polling information from the past six elections from dozens of languages to discover voters likely to be sympathetic to Modi.

The BBC reports that political parties have hired the digital marketing agency Pinstorm to track conversations on online platforms so that they can adjust their message accordingly.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), is using Pinstorm to “compare how we are faring against others,” the party's social media strategist told the BBC. This is the first general election the anti-corruption AAP has participated in.

Tools of the Trade

Finally, a Financial Times blog post highlighted four interesting uses of social media in the India election, including a voter registration and mobilization platform by Narendra Modi's campaign called NaMoNumber, the use of WhatsApp's group messaging function to organize volunteers and campaign workers, and using lo-tech missed calls and SMS messages to communicate with voters.

This year has also seen a change in the way journalists cover Indian elections. The BBC has begun using WhatsApp and WeChat to send election updates and news to subscribers.

Still, some remain skeptical of the “tremendous influence” social media will have on the election.

“The importance of social media has grown,” Sanjay Kumar, an election expert and director of the Center for the Study of Developing Societies, told the Washington Post, “but look at the size of the population, the number of people living in villages, the number of illiterates.”

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

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