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Hashtags, trends, tweets: behind Cong social media blitzkrieg, a buzzing team

The digital perception management plans of all political parties, having a footprint on internet platforms, have all had to adapt very fast for the Omicron wave which has put severe restrictions on the traditional methods of electoral campaigns

Written by Man Aman Singh Chhina | Chandigarh |
January 15, 2022 1:54:09 am
Headquartered in Mohali with presence in all districts and Assembly constituencies, an aggressive social media campaign has been launched by the ‘digital warriors’ of Congress (File)

The Congress social media team is in a state of overdrive keeping up with the fast paced political developments within the party and outside and also catering for the digital outreach with physical rallies put off due to Covid. The digital perception management plans of all political parties, having a footprint on internet platforms, have all had to adapt very fast for the Omicron wave which has put severe restrictions on the traditional methods of electoral campaigns and the Congress social media team is no different.

Headquartered in Mohali with presence in all districts and Assembly constituencies, an aggressive social media campaign has been launched by the ‘digital warriors’ of Congress led by their national digital coordinator and in-charge of Punjab, Gaurav Pandhi.

“We set up war room in October in Sector 70 of Mohali. We have a 25 member core team and numerous volunteers who work remotely. We have also announced a team which includes social media department office bearers at state and district levels and every assembly constituency,” says Pandhi.

10,000 WHATSAPP GROUPS
Explaining the work being done by the digital campaign headquarters, Pandhi says here the team creates content in political strategy. “Dissemination of this content happens at the level of social media. We have 10,000 Whatsapp groups at present active in Punjab. These groups have people from constituencies. For our own party workers, we have existing groups which are around 7000 in number,” he says.

Pandhi claims the social media campaign of Congress in Punjab has been picking up steam and hit the high gear as the new year dawned. “We also have a Facebook page. We are doing number one in Punjab on traffic. The engagements are at more than 8 million today. Till a few days ago this space was occupied by AAP so this shows that acceptance of Congress is growing across Punjab,” he says.

The digital campaign has to be carried out in consultation with the political leadership. And in a fractured Congress in the state that can be an uphill task. However, the digital team has been able to get the coordination going. “Our focus is more in coordination with leadership. We have been able to coordinate with leaders as per our requirement. We did ‘Lokaan di sarkar’ campaign on December 31 which was a big hit. These campaigns have been launched on Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram. These platforms have more reach,” argues Pandhi.

The focus has also been in creating a network where the Congress messages reach out to people who will actually vote. “Pushing content is one thing. But we also get views from them. We want people’s participation in the campaign and so this feedback is important,” he says. The party’s digital team have also created a broadcast network which has around 10,000 people. “We have a broadcast list who have registered with us. There is a particular number which these people have saved and they get our messages directly,” says Pandhi.

THE CAMPAIGNS
Much of the focus is on Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi’s government and the work undertaken by it ever since they came to office a few months back. However, the campaigns also highlight some work done in past five years too. “We ran a campaign ‘Hath Punjab da’ and right now we have done one on Sonu Sood with Congress. ‘111 Congress dobara’ too was a successful campaign,” says Gaurav.

Every week the digital team launches three to four social media campaigns and this includes one big one which has bigger impact. “We launch songs also. We got 15 lakh views on ‘Channi Karda Masle hal’ while the ‘70,000 kursi 700 bande’ campaign after Modi fiasco in Ferozepur also has a big draw. People actually started using these phrases in their social media exchanges. When you populate a campaign, the idea is to get into people’s mind,” he says.
Pandhi says common people started using these tag lines on Facebook and that showed the success of the campaign.

CURTAINS ON PHYSICAL RALLIES
“Since elections are going digital I do not see physical rallies happening now. We need to reach maximum people digitally. This has to start now. Our focus is live digital rallies should be seen by maximum people. The EC guidelines are a boon as it will give experience to political parties to go digital. The big rallies will stop eventually even after Covid, in my view. This is the way forward politically. Governance has also gone digital so the political process which takes you to government also needs to go digital,” says Pandhi.

“This happened in Bihar elections also after the first Covid wave and suddenly everyone was exploring digital means. Now we are using that experience,” he adds.

On ways and means to make digital rallies a success, Pandhi says this has to happen at different levels. “Our central leadership will address the people of Punjab. The idea is to reach people on their phones live at the time. Same goes for state leadership. More challenging is how to get the local leadership in assembly constituencies to deal with this. We are working on how individually these leaders can reach out to constituents. They will have to adapt to the changes,” he said.

The party has set up additional digital control rooms at district level. These control rooms are used to present the local messages and on an average four to five people work in them, all Congress workers.
“This is for the first time the social media campaign is being handled by Congress and has not been outsourced. No agency is involved,” he says.

PERCEPTION MANAGEMENT
There is also a considerable effort put in by social media teams of all parties to run down opponents but quite predictably the Congress digital media head does not want to talk about those. A plausible deniability is built into such campaigns to prevent a negative backlash if it occurs.

Commenting on one of the more recent successes of the Congress digital team in Punjab, the fallout of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Ferozepur security breach is high on Pandhi’s list. “In the Modi incident, immediately after it happened, we were already running ‘Punjab virodhi Modi‘ campaign. We put out snippets of CM Channi’s press conference that same day. We then analysed the footage of Modi on the flyover and started putting out stuff on SPG lapses. Then we took opinion of people on the street about the incident. Our focus was that people did not turn up in the rally and as a face-saver the BJP has created this hungama. We made lot of content which worked,” says Pandhi.

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