Candidates take the digital route to engage with voters - Hindustan Times
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Candidates take the digital route to engage with voters

Apr 04, 2024 09:18 AM IST

Social media influencers and messaging apps have become the preferred means for candidates to engage with voters

LUCKNOW Battle lines are drawn for the Lok Sabha polls and candidates are braving the heat in constituencies to enhance their winnability factor. But behind them is an army of techies, in swanky offices, analysing voters’ data in the metaverse, which has played a key role in reshaping poll campaigns since the 2014 general election.

Social media creatives have replaced hoardings that have already gone off road with the model code of conduct coming into effect. (Pic for representation)
Social media creatives have replaced hoardings that have already gone off road with the model code of conduct coming into effect. (Pic for representation)

Social media influencers and messaging apps have become the preferred means for candidates to engage with voters. The deals for social media campaigns come in different packages. An estimated 15-20 crore is collectively spent on digital campaigns for 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh alone. Right from handling candidates’ X handle, facebook/instagram page to content writing and gauging voters’ mind, all come with a different price tag. Simple handling of posts on X and facebook since the day a candidature is announced till the counting day could cost 2.5 lakh per candidate. The price goes up to 20 lakh, if a candidate wants to add booth-level research from their constituency.

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So, if you come across someone with a collar mic and cell phone, conducting a street interview with some sharp questions, take it with a pinch of salt, as this is an attempt to gauge the voter’s mind on Lok Sabha 2024 polls by a social media professional.

Sample this. A 2,000-sq feet office on the third floor of a commercial building near Polytechnic in Lucknow has two rooms dedicated to one team. Separate teams are working here on social media for candidates of two parties.

Political ideologies do not matter here...what matters is the service (client’s victory).

“We have connected with hundreds of social media professionals/influencers having good reach within the community. A dedicated team of party workers is also working separately on social media platforms with an outreach of at least 10 lakh people in Lucknow,” said Praveen Garg, media in-charge for defence minister Rajnath Singh, BJP candidate for Lucknow.

“Party-wise, each seat (total 80 seats) will have at least four major candidates. This means, at least 320 professionals will delve deep into digital campaign exercise (if each candidate hires one social media professional),” said Vishal Mishra, a social media strategist.

“The effort via social media is to reach and read voters’ mind. Feedback through social media is relevant to frame future strategy,” said Nikhil Srivastava, working with central social media team of the BJP in New Delhi.

Social media creatives have replaced hoardings that have already gone off road with the model code of conduct coming into effect. As each political hoarding adds to the cost of election campaign, which is maximum 95 lakh per candidate, social media allows multiple creatives at the same fixed cost, which has been finalised with social media professionals.

According to industry insiders, the business is approximately 15 lakh per seat this election.

Crucial for wide reach, accessibility, and ability to engage diverse demographics, social media experts have multi-faceted tasks - from script and video for micro-blogging sites to content for TV and radio interviews. Hence social media professionals, including trend setters (on X), content writers, creatives experts and influencers, all are being hired for the political job.

“Social media war is all about changing perception and setting narratives both for candidate from ruling party and from the opposition,” said Anoop Mishra, a digital marketing expert.

The state unit of the Congress has set up its social media section at the party office and called it a training session too. “We have booth-wise WhatsApp groups apart from YouTube channel. The IT cell in UP has 23 regular staff for the party and this is apart from the social media professionals hired by candidates,” said Anshu Awasthy, spokesperson, UP Congress.

Podcasters are the latest entry into the social media strategy. They will be engaged more for interviews instead of other media.

In UP, social media partly dominated election campaigns since 2014 general election. The BJP went aggressive on use of social media and having social media presence was made mandatory for ticket hopefuls, which led to party lawmakers and ticket hopefuls taking to social media.

The Samajwadi Party took to social media aggressively since 2017 elections and a major part of its election war room and campaign was social media based.

Even the BSP has almost all its leaders on various meta platforms after party chief Mayawati took to ‘X’ in October 2018.

Content creators are more sought after instead of celebs, because of their (content creators) engagement with specific audience.

“Post physical campaign, social media will be of great help for candidates to gauge people’s reactions. This is why majority of ticket hopefuls hired social media experts long before for image building and the contract will go on till counting,” said Mishra.

But social media campaign isn’t just a smooth ride this election, said experts.

“The trustworthiness of social media has gone down. In 2014, election social media was all about visibility, but today all content is either cross-checked or ignored,” said Saroj Kumar Dhal, assistant professor at department of sociology, University of Lucknow.

Anuj, an Unnao-based expert who works on trend setting, said: “Influencers do not associate directly with political party line. But they do matter for parties for their reach, which if garnered correctly, will connect voters with the candidate.”

According to statistics (May 2023) tele-density (number of telephone connection per 100 population) in Uttar Pradesh is 65.94 while in India it is 84.40

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