Every day at 9 am, among the reports that are placed in front of Army Chief Gen Dalbir Singh is one that has little operational importance but gets his full attention. It is from the Army’s social media team.
The report contains feedback on the Army’s social media activities of the previous day and plans for the day ahead. And it is returned, at times with suggestions, to the Additional Director General (Public Information), or ADGPI, who passes it on to the social media team.
Comprising three officers, this team mostly focuses on Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp. Last month, the Army’s Facebook page topped the global People Talking About That (PTAT) ranking under the government category, based on the number of people talking about or on a particular page.
However, while the social media team’s efforts on Facebook and Twitter have received praise, its current challenge is from WhatsApp groups used by serving officers and soldiers, particularly when discussions revolve around sensitive issues.
For instance, as emotions ran high last month during the protests over One Rank-One Pension (OROP), these groups had “a lot of negative information” about the Army and its senior leadership.
Earlier this month, some groups had posted allegations of corruption — including talk of a CBI enquiry — against a senior officer at the Army headquarters.
“We are committed to providing authentic and reliable information through the fastest means of communication today; social media is the future and we are ready for it. It is an important element of the Army’s outreach programme,” Lt Gen Shokin Chauhan, ADGPI, told The Indian Express.
The goal of the social media team, particularly on WhatsApp where it monitors up to
300 groups, is to counter a negative message within hours and promote a positive one within minutes.
“It’s an open secret that Army headquarters posts on our WhatsApp groups. We all know it when it is done, by the language and the argument used, but it is still good to hear the ‘official’ version,” an officer based in Guwahati told The Indian Express.
Besides WhatsApp, the team focusses on the Army’s Facebook page, which started in June 2013 and now has more than 3.2 million people tracking it, without “any paid promotion or boosting”.
The social media team posts a minimum of three updates on Facebook every day at timings decided with the help of insight tools: 11-12 am, 5-6 pm and 8.30-9.30 pm. The posts are usually about recruitment rallies, homage to martyrs, motivational messages and achievements this day that year.
One such post received 9.8 million “likes” — the maximum so far — and it is common to see around 2 million people pay homage on a post highlighting the martyrdom of a young officer.
The team’s workload goes up manifold during a humanitarian crisis, such as the Kashmir floods last year and the Nepal earthquake this year. It encourages people to post the details of those needing evacuation and passes the information on real-time basis to control rooms at the sites.
The Army’s Twitter page, meanwhile, has more than 5 lakh followers and is automatically linked to its Facebook updates. Most updates are informational in nature but Twitter mentions are also used to monitor “feedback from the environment”. All responses or mentions from a verified Twitter account are noted, and a printout given to higher-ups.
“We are fully aware that the Indian Army is the biggest brand in the country. On social media, we only want to increase the respect it has. The next step for us is to reach out to rural India, get more female followers and to post updates in Hindi and other regional languages,” said a member of the social media team.