THE UPCOMING Lok Sabha poll is not the first election to be contested on social media. This time, however, political parties are engaging with social platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat like never before.
The vanguard of this engagement is lead by social media warriors like Akshay Khatry (30), whose 16-hour-long work schedule involves clicking photos, shooting videos, creating memes and constantly updating the social media feed of Sanjay Nirupam, the Congress candidate from Mumbai North West.
Khatry has been following Nirupam for over an year now and heads a 11-member social media team and 50 to 60 grassroots level volunteers. The army of volunteers, mostly students, shoot videos, reach out to voters, copy, paste, forward, like, tweet and re-tweet posts throughout the day.
On April 5, Rishabh, a law student and a volunteer for Poonam Mahajan — the BJP candidate from Mumbai North Central — spent the entire day recording videos of her and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s supporters, as she held her nomination rally.
“As volunteers, we reach out to voters a day before Poonam Mahajan makes her speech. We record their demands and hopes that they want their MP to fulfill. We are also running a ‘Know your MP’ campaign on the various registered WhatsApp groups,” said Rishabh.
Click here for more election news
With over 300 million Internet users in urban India, the politicians are reaching them with the best option available — smartphones. With the expanse of social media, politicians are also going beyond sharing updates but using it as an interactive medium. Almost like trailer launch, the candidates are now using Instagram stories to answer voters’ question. In an ‘Ask Poonam’ event, the questions ranged from Mumbai’s infrastructure issues, animal welfare, housing for slums to women’s participation in politics.
Social media made a noisy entrance with the last Lok Sabha elections, which now is growing with entrants like Snapchat, a photo messaging application, where the photos shared are only available for 24 hours. Targeting the Indian market, the messaging application launched a beta test version in eight new languages, including five Indian languages — Marathi, Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu and Gujarati, last month.
“No one has time to sit through big speeches and videos, especially on social media. Our ideas is to send the candidate’s message through 15 and 30 second videos on Instagram and Snapchat to our target audience, which is the 18 to 35 age group,” said Khatry.
Taking a cue from the famous New York photo blog and book of street portraits ‘Humans of New York’, Congress candidate from Mumbai South, Milind Deora, began ‘Humans of South Mumbai’ on his Instagram account, to give faces to issues like demonetisation and unemployment among others.
In an interactive session on Instagram, Deora asked the voters how many times, their current Sena MP Arvind Sawant visited them. To an immediate answer of not even once, Deora replied with a 30-second Instagram video story. On a busy day, the candidates upload 6 to 10 posts on Instagram and Facebook.
“Those above 35 years have moved to Facebook and Twitter. The young population in Mumbai slums have smartphones and the teams are targeting them on the platform with small video clips and personalised messages that expire after 24 hours,” said Khatry.
While some are cashing on the reach of social media, others are using it to announce rally dates and venue in their constituency. Urmila Matondkar, Congress’ Mumbai North candidate, said: “Until now, I used my Instagram for personal use. But now, I am heavily using Twitter to post about my rallies… Our Prime Minister has brought this to our doorsteps that I may not be available to you personally, but I am available on Twitter. After this, I had to open my Twitter account.”