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BJP's magic-bullet approach to social media for Election 2019

The ruling party is making hefty expenditures on digital promotions

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MUMBAI: With less than 10 days left for the most awaited General Election of India, where the country selects its next prime minister, global social media giant Facebook, which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, took down around 700 pages for showing “coordinated inauthentic behaviour”, associated with various political parties, from its site.

The list of the pages taken down by the global giant from Facebook and Instagram under its refined social media policy for political campaigns included 687 associated with an IT Cell of the Indian National Congress (INC) and 15 belonging to Indian IT firm Silver Touch, which usually handles the duties for the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government.

These pages were spending a hefty amount of money on promotions and advertisement. While the 687 accounts linked with Congress had spent $39,000 between August 2014 and March 2019, the 15 pages being associated with BJP had nearly double spends with $70,000 flowing from June 2014 to February 2019.

And it can very well be just the tip of the iceberg. It is no revelation that social media has been playing a prominent role in the political battles not just in India but globally for the past few years. In fact, the landslide victory that BJP recorded in the 2014 polls, probably the biggest ever in its decades-old history, has been significantly attributed to the smart use of social media as a tool to allure young voters.

And this year is no different. While all political parties are spending a considerable amount of money and manpower in refining their social media strategies, BJP is way ahead of the curve. Compare the amount spent by a collective of 687 pages with just the 15 that have been taken down by Facebook, and one can see the stark difference in the expenditures being incurred by the parties.

`While none of the pages revealed the identity of the source running these accounts and from where the money was pouring in to spend on these promotional activities, it is evident that the IT machinery of BJP is quite strong and refined. Given that its magic-bullet approach resulted in a success in 2014, it is obvious that the party will once again take the same route.

As per Facebook’s Ad Library, which includes data related to ads of political nature and relevant to national importance on Facebook and Instagram, political advertisers cumulatively have spent more than Rs 8 crore in less than two months and again leading the charts is BJP with top three accounts promoting it. One of the topmost pages called “My First Vote For Modi” has spent close to Rs 61 lakh in the past two months. In fact, the same page is offering gifts and free BJP merchandise to people who pledge to vote for the ruling party in the upcoming elections, which means extra expenditure on those goodies.

The BJP social media teams and leadership have been intelligent with their hashtag campaigns too. Just recently the #MainBhiChowkidaar campaign was trending on Twitter. Not just that, the on-ground rallies with people showing support to this slogan surely grabbed a lot many eyeballs. Other hashtags like #ModiOnceMore are being used widely by the party supporters.
While social media is a war zone that BJP is banking on very strongly, another interesting attribute of its campaigns is the Modi merchandise. From caps to sarees to masks to kids’ snack packets, Modi’s face can be found anywhere and everywhere. The TV, print, and radio campaigns have seen an equally big investment in promotions.

Though such wide promotions might give an edge in terms of recognisability to the party, it might not be a stepping stone to success, says TRA Research CEO N Chandramouli on being asked to compare the expenditures made by the parties across media.

He shared, “When speaking to a local political party's communication advisor recently, we got discussing on the ad budgets of the current ruling party and the others. The ad budget differences between the BJP and Congress are estimated to be at least 3 to 4-fold. With such high budgets, BJP has started advertising with high intensity early on using all media at its means. On the other hand, Congress, which is estimated to have an ad-spend of just 25-30 per cent of the ruling cash-bags laden party, is surely waiting for the appropriate time to spend most productively.”

Elaborating more on the same, Chandramouli continued, “Not many notice this but the seven phases can be construed as a wily orchestration of distributing the lesser budget of the opposition over two extra phases to try and reduce their advertising fire-power. That said, such battles are not just won depending on the amount of ammunition that the side has, but on the ability of the party's message to mobilise people through positive messaging. Parochial politics, dividing, blaming, and finger-pointing and jingoism do not have a high impact on the highly aware electorate, who decides with the ballot keeping their personal concerns and needs in mind.”

The party having the highest ad-decibels and ad-spends faces one more critical challenge, that of their messages going into the blind-spot of the voter due to the repeated 'noise'.

India will go into polls over 7 phases starting 11 April to 19 May. The results will be announced on 23 May.

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