Indian National Congress Party’s On and Off Tryst With Social Media

A look at Indian Congress Party's growing relationship with Social Media before the 2014 general elections in India

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Connecting with humans is no rocket science; you need to only be human. The same rule applies for anyone on social media and it holds true for governments and political parties as well. People are willing to talk if you are ready to listen but not when you’re blowing your own trumpet on social media, like most of the world’s leaders on Twitter.

There is no doubt that BJP and Narendra Modi adopted social media upon realizing the powers of the medium, even when the Indian Congress party was working on regulating and blocking it. The party, however, may deny the fact that they first realized the power of social media or the power of the common man during the Lokpal movement in 2011.

Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee Facebook

Initial work on social media in 2011

After the movement mellowed a bit, the UPA government backed by the Congress party in the centre pulled up its socks but only to create a presence that was blowing its own trumpet. It was not just the government officials but all other members of opposition too who were building a social media presence that wanted to broadcast political messages but did not want to “Listen.”

The Indian Prime Minister was on Twitter or to be precise the PMO office was on Twitter to just report the daily activities of our PM. It was more like an online bulletin board. For all these years it has been the same and there have been no change in the strategy. Not that we haven’t seen good examples of the use of the medium from the likes of Nirupama Rao, India’s Foreign Secretary who used Twitter during the evacuation of Indians at the time of the Libyan crisis and the Indian Diplomacy. But the PMO Twitter handle chose not to speak with people online.

Regulating and trying to control social media

During the same time, the Government also came up with the brilliant idea of monitoring and regulating social media. Monitoring is understood but regulating social media evoked more backlash against the government.

In fact after flopping miserably on social media during the Lokpal movement, the party got another chance to make social media it’s weapon during the 2012 North East problems but instead it chose to blame social media for everything. It started putting pressure on social networking sites, registered cases, planned state specific ban of social media and did everything other than creating positive campaigns to win the confidence of the common man.

2013 sees a sensible move on social media

By 2013 with the general elections coming close (2014) and stiff completion from the BJP and Narendra Modi camp on social media, Congress party started debating about its social media strategies.

Thus with the dawn of 2013, Congress started taking baby steps on social media.

congress chintan shivir

It started by asking AICC members to submit details of their “social media life” along with their latest bio-data. The intention from the party was not to curb the freedom of its members but to keep a watch on who is saying what on social media since the party’s online reputation was at stake.

Later on Kapil Sibal expressed that the Congress party would require Rs. 100 crore during the next 18 months i.e. till the Lok Sabha elections to counter its main opponent BJP on the social media field. These figures were quoted at the Chintan Shivir, where the party also accepted that the opposition party has been leading the war on social media.

The party has been aware how Narendra Modi has created a staggering presence on social media, constantly engaged with the common man through his innovative ways and also has a team that constantly monitors social media and submits reports to concerned parties.

The three-day meet ended with a consensus that there needs to be a counter strategy prepared that would be submitted to Rahul Gandhi in the next ten days.

But the Congress was still thinking on ways to counter the Narendra Modi camp, forgetting to connect with voters on social media, take them into confidence and work on their grievances. The party was of the mindset that the voters are not online, so why pay heed to the conversations happening on social media.

Roping Influential Twitter celebrities

After initial news that a 35 member team has been formed to counter the social media strategies of the opposition, the Congress party roped in Twitter influencers like Shashi Tharoor, Shahrukh Khan, Shabana Azmi and other techno savvy leaders to spread its message.

The idea was to have eminent personalities who are celebs on Twitter and have a great presence on social media, to drive the party’s message. However, the news was quite interesting since the party roped in Shashi Tharoor who was at the receiving end from senior party colleagues over his controversial tweet that spoke about “cattle class.” Roping in Shah Rukh Khan was surprising too since the Bollywood star had decided to hang his boots on social media as he was not able to take the brick bats.

Hunt for social media agency

social media expertThis was during the month of April, 2013 when the Congress party realised that it should go out and look for a decent agency to do the job. We didn’t hear thereafter on whether any agency was selected. Although call for pitches were requested, it was also announced that Digvijay Singh, Congress General Secretary would be taking the final decision for assigning the duties to the chosen agency.

Hiring an agency was a smart move but it was too late. The offline damages and the online repercussions had already ripped the reputation of the party on social media. But the party was still debating about the fact that social media won’t influence elections in 2014 and it is still a supplement.  They still didn’t pay heed to counter the conversations (positive or negative) on social media.

Now on the hunt for social media activists and volunteers

After hunting for an agency, it is now looking to hire 50 social media activists in its office in Delhi, to help campaign for the upcoming Loksabha elections or General elections in 2014.

Along with this it has also realized that the new medium has made the common man a publisher so with the ‘With Congress’ campaign it is looking for volunteers to strengthen its base on social media. The volunteer driven campaign is another initiative to promote Indian National Congress’ initiatives and views to the people of India. The motive is to gain a bigger reach by turning netizens into brand advocates.

From here onwards for Congress on social media

With time Congress has got a grip on social media and from having the opinion that social media won’t influence the 2014 elections it has now accepted that you can’t ignore the medium. Social media is like any other medium and you can’t ignore it because conversations are happening on social media, despite the medium lacking a major mass of people.

The medium today is where the controversies happen and one has to be there to fight the opposition and make the parties stand clear. For the time being Congress is doing it all. During the Uttarakhand controversy we saw Lok Sabha leader of BJP, Sushma Swaraj take a dig at the Uttarakhand Chief Minister on Twitter for his incapability of handling the recent crisis. In return, she received a strong reply from the Congress ministers such as Manish Tewari and Ajay Mekan over Twitter.

At the same time we have seen the party holding workshops for the spokesperson on the dos and don’ts on social media especially on channels like Twitter. The workshop had speakers like Union Minister Shashi Tharoor and Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari who provided tips and emphasized that due care should be taken while using Twitter.

We have some more time for the 2014 elections and we would witness some more high voltage drama and controversies happening on social media (to be read as Twitter). There is no doubt that the country’s oldest party, Congress is going to be out there on social media in full gear to counter BJP’s massive social media strategies.

Wish Congress had initiated all this earlier.

Image courtesy: deccanchronicle.com, With Congressoman-collective-intelligence.com and Facebook.