Out of the 814 million Indians eligible to vote in this elections, more than 200 million are estimated to have access to the internet including over 100 million active on various social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
According to digital media experts, a bulk of about 100 million first-time voters joining the electorate for upcoming Lok Sabha elections are very active on social networking sites and they are the main target of parties taking the social media route to reach out to their target audience.
Estimates suggest that out of nearly Rs 4,000-5,000 crore total advertisement and publicity budget across the parties, digital platforms may get at least Rs 400-500 crore in the run up to the polls.
With online campaigning emerging as a major tool for the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi assembly polls last year, social media is getting greater attention of the strategists for Lok Sabha polls as well as across parties.
According to officials at digital marketing firms being used by some leading parties, judicious use of social media could turn out to be the “game changer” in some urban seats.
As per studies conducted by various parties, internally and by third-party agencies hired by them, as many as 160 constituencies out of the total 543 seats are likely be influenced by social media. Parties, including smaller regional outfits, are therefore leaving no stone unturned to get that crucial ‘online swing’ in their favour.
Not withstanding traditional media outlets like on-ground political rallies and speeches, social media’s word-of-mouth novelty factor is ensuring leaders are on top of the mind for online citizens.
Google India’s industry head Gaurav Kapur said, “With over 200 million internet users in the country, internet as a medium has found its own space in the political parties’ media spends. Leading national parties are actively engaging users through digital medium. Different parties are adopting different strategies and digital spending varies from 5 per cent to 10 per cent of their total advertising budgets.”
Google is also seeing independent spends from political candidates to drive user engagement on their websites to create awareness about their achievements and plans for their constituencies.
YouTube is playing a central role in this — as it overcomes the language barrier and political parties are able to engage users through audio-visual medium in local languages, Kapur added.
Various types of campaigns are being run by parties, including crowdsourcing their election manifestos, soliciting online donations to targeting resident Indians as well as NRIs.
The social media network is also being used by parties looking to sign up volunteers and increasing party membership. Brand campaigns built around the senior leadership of the parties are a big hit, say campaign managers.
All leading parties are promoting and posting videos of their key rallies, speeches and events like Google+ Hangout.
Parties are also using YouTube to distribute videos which which are targeted towards rival parties with some of them having already gone viral.
According to Facebook, there are more voting-age citizens on Facebook than who are registered to vote in the US.
“The power of this massive reach can be seen in how campaigns have decided to deeply invest and integrate Facebook into their strategies,” the company said.
The Internet and Mobile Association of India estimates that a well executed social media campaign can swing 3-4 per cent of votes. This is also driving Facebook engagements.
Facebook has added features like ‘Register to Vote’, ‘Election Menu – Facebook on USSD, India Election Tracker, Facebook Talks and Political Interest Lits, which, among others, allow users to declare that they have registered for voting, provide them up-to-date candidate information and also help them gauge public sentiment.
While Twitter did not respond to questions on the use of the social platform for India polls, sources said elections are being marketed by the micro-blogging site as an “avenue for partnerships”.
As per engagements and number of followers ‘favouriting’ posts, retweeting, replying and interacting with inorganic ‘trends’, Twitter is expected to rake in big moolah, although it has not made any changes in its advertising strategy for polls.
With growing use of social media by major political outfits, the Election Commission has demanded transparency in the advertising budgets of these parties on various websites, a move that has helped larger digital players consolidate market share through better and faster services.
The surge of social media usage has already prompted many leaders to use these platforms to reach out to the people. BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and finance minister P Chidambaram are among the leaders who have interacted live with the public via online forums and such events will pick up pace as the election battle heats up.
When it comes to cities, the majority of parties are appealing to a younger generation of internet savvy voters, not just in larger metros like Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata but also in tier-II and tier-III cities, a digital expert said.
Modi is among India’s most famous social media celebrities with 11 million Facebook ‘likes’ and over 3 million Twitter followers.
While many big Congress leaders are absent on platforms like Twitter and Facebook, there are people like Shashi Tharoor (with more than 2 million Twitter followers) and Kapil Sibal, Ajay Maken and others to fill the void.
AAP’s Kejriwal also has also over 1.6 million Twitter followers.