How Indian politicians are using social media to build personal brands


The revolutionary 2014 general elections in India saw social media as a new battleground and Narendra Modi emerged as India’s Obama. Unlike the conventional ways of sending messages, recorded calls and public gatherings, this election saw politicians leveraging social meda to reach out to their constituents like never before. Even those who were reluctant earlier have now become active either out of necessity to keep up with their peers or as mandated by their political party.

Twitter recently released a blog on the 100 days of Twitter diplomacy by Narendra Modi, with an interesting heat map of tweets with geotags that had mentions of his name. Here is a look at the social media profiles of some of the noted politicos and an attempt to classify them into various buckets based on patterns of their engagement.

Social Media Leader: Some politicians have nailed the art of social media engagement, with an amazing mix of personal feelings, nationalist pride and smart positioning.

PM Narendra Modi, for one, has mastered the art of using social media with nary a false step. In the first 100 days of his being India’s PM, he has added over 2 million followers, taking the tally to 6.2 million followers and making him the second most followed politician in the world behind only Barack Obama. Including the followers on the official twitter handle of PMO, the follower count is close to 9 million. Modi seamlessly keeps foreign relations (wishing Nishikori on being the first Japanese and Asian male to enter US Open finals), nationalist pride (wishing Sania Mirza on the mixed doubles win), engaging with young India on the occasion of Teachers’ Day and sharing with the world how he gifted the saree from Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif. The tweet that shared his most human side and made him seem more accessible and create his brand new persona was of course the selfie of him seeking his mother’s blessings after winning the mandate.

Despite knowing that there is an army of social media experts who handle and guide Modi’s online presence, it still is quite an achievement to share opinions and truly converse with the masses.

Party Mouthpieces: Undoubtedly, we all believe that this is one of the primary goals that every politician aims to achieve. In any case, they cannot afford to tamper with the party identity and defame their current status. However, it seems some of their social media accounts are filled with such posts and tweets.

Sushma Swaraj, however, plays it well on both fronts – maintaining her and her party’s political image. She uses Twitter to convey her opinion on matters relating to her and her party’s identity. Furthermore, this may seem to be the only reason why she has joined the Twittersphere.

Interestingly, Mr. Yadav’s Twitter handle (@AAPyogendra) is enough to say what means to him more: his party or him? His twitter wall is filled with a plethora of tweets/retweets on the flaws of the current ruling party. He maintains a strictly political profile and makes sure his party identity is fenced. Here’s a tweet of his targeting the BJP when Amit Shah was announced the party president, despite the accusations on him.

Looking at Priyanka Chaturvedi’s twitter profile, you will find that, all that she has got to offer to her 56 K followers are insights on Congress and the importance of women empowerment. Her opinionated tweets or retweets which interest her, revolves around such ideas. Probably just like the epic Rahul Gandhi interview at Times Now.

Controversy’s Children: Probably this is the next best category that can fall after ‘upholding party identity’ section. Today, controversy seems to be an apposite synonym for the word politician. Going hand in hand with what happens on-field, some politicians have taken social media as a virtual battlefield aiming hard to keep their followers updated on the recent happenings of the other parties.

Moving on, in case you are looking for points against Narendra Modi, hop onto Digvijaya Singh’s Twitter page and you can find an accumulation of information against him and his minister’s. His page is more about the rosy image of his party and less about him. The biggest controversy of course was around him, not by a tweet of his. It was when his relationship with the journalist Amrita Rai was made public in the election build up and he was forced to respond to it. There hundreds of tweets mocking him and his political party’s take on women empowerment in the backdrop of this event.

Subramaniam Swamy’s twitter wall has often been transformed into a controversial forum with his ardent Hindu beliefs. A recent example could be of him referring to Modi as ‘Brahmin’. However, he often indulges in spreading awareness amongst his followers on his appearance on television, his articles and his speeches. Other than that, he retweets on topics that interest him.

For Shashi Tharoor, Twitter has been a two-edged sword from the beginning. One of the early adopters among India’s politicians (joined March 2009), he has built over 2.34 million followers. But his gaffe of implying that economy class flyers were cattle class and the subsequent explanation happened just 6 months after that. There was then a quiet period until his wife, the late Sunanda Pushkar took to Twitter to refer to his ‘alleged’ affair and proximity to the Pakistani journalist Mehr Tarar.

I, Me, Myself: Like most of us are on social media, many politicians are deeply concerned about themselves more than anything else around. Almost all of their tweets have their stamp on it, whether related or not.

Even though Arun Jaitley joined Twitter in December 2013, he is working hard to make sure that his identity is in the forefront. The same can be said about Shivraj Chouhan. Both of them tweet festival greetings, encouragement messages or even other announcements with their large pictures and the message itself present somewhere on the picture almost as an afterthought. Chouhan’s profile also talks about development initiatives of Madhya Pradesh.

Echo Chambers: There are some politicians who seem to be on a constant look out for topics which interests them and in the process skip on establishing their own opinions.

Arvind Kejriwal and Smriti Irani both retweet extensively on topics of their choice, with only a few original tweets peppered in between. The much debated figure Smriti Irani mostly retweets from party profiles to keep her followers updated on the events and occurrences in her party. Kejriwal retweets from various accounts on topics related to Modi Government, Gandhi teachings and AAP. These profiles do not create a pattern, but more of a smattering of various topics.

The interesting thing is to notice how we no longer need traditional media to get an insight into a politician’s thinking with social media holding up a mirror to a certain degree. There is also another lesson here about how social media can actually be a potent weapon to spread your ideology, or at least get it to reach more ears.

Share your list of very innovative social media campaigns of Indian startups that you admire and remember, in the comments below.