India Insight

Arvind Gupta, BJP IT cell head, on party’s social media plans

September 25, 2013

By Aditya Kalra and David Lalmalsawma

Political parties in India are relying more on social media ahead of the 2014 election as a way of increasing voter support, even though politicians in general do not expect such efforts to significantly influence election results.

India Insight interviewed Arvind Gupta, head of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s IT division, in July about social media and the party’s plans for the elections. Here are edited excerpts:

Why the recent social media push?
It’s not sudden for us. We have been engaged in social media for the last three to four years. It’s been a consistent effort. I think only in the early part of this year, people started realizing that this could be one of the accelerators. I don’t call it a game changer, but an accelerator in this election.

(Also read: Social media not a game changer in 2014 elections)

How big a contribution will it make in the elections?
It’s definitely setting a narrative. It is influencing a lot of people. Now people who use this are using it a lot more than they are watching TV or doing anything else.  So if we can communicate and have a good message delivered to them well, they consume that message. So it’s a method of communication. The game changer is the message actually, not the method of communication.

Can it help you win an election?
First of all, no good marketing can sell a bad product. This is a very effective medium for us to communicate all our good things. Everything has to fall in place, it is an additional medium. It can definitely help us win the election if it amplifies our message the way we are expecting it to.

Who is the architect of the social media push?
It’s all joint. We have experts which are all internal. We take a lot of opinions; a lot of people come and give us their opinions. We are actually an aggregator of all those ideas and feedback, and we execute them. So it’s a people’s campaign. So there is no one architect.

Will your social media efforts centre on Narendra Modi?
I can’t comment on that. Number one, because the strategy is not out, neither are we going to discuss it. It’s going to be very close to the elections.  But what I can tell you is that while Mr. Modi is a brand, BJP is also a brand, there are other leaders who are brands. Sushmaji is very active on Twitter; our president is very active on Facebook and Twitter.

What sets your strategy apart from that of Congress?
Passion versus paisa (money). They’re having a knee-jerk reaction. They started very late and because they started very late, they have a lot of catch-up to do. So they are throwing a lot of money after it, but it’s not going to achieve the results. Time will tell. Secondly, I think what sets us apart is our vision for this country, a track record of governance … They don’t have a message. I think how ever much marketing they try, they cannot sell a bad product.

(Also read: Interview with Shashi Tharoor on Congress’ social media plans, digital presence of Gandhis)

They are spending a lot of money, you say. Why do you think it will not work out?
I am nobody to advise them, neither do I want to comment on what they are doing right or wrong. I just feel that social media engagement, digital engagement needs consistent engagement and not knee-jerk reactions.

(Congress’ Shashi Tharoor reacts: As far as the (social media) plan is concerned, you are asking the wrong guy. I have not spent any money and I have not seen any money being spent on any of this stuff)

There have been reports that some of Narendra Modi’s followers are fake. What is your view on that?
These are just algorithms and they are uniform for all people. There are algorithms which a lot of companies have made to identify people as active, fake and inactive. Lot of people don’t tweet, but they read tweets, and according to these algorithms, they’ll be fake.

What do you think about Twitter wars … we have seen #feku (pretentious) and #pappu (clueless kid) showing up as a way to deride politicians. Does it bother you?

Twitter is a very open medium, there is chaos out there. People write what they want to write, people feel about certain things, they start trending, trends catch up. We can’t intervene. We can’t fix such situations. It’s an open world.

(Editing by Robert MacMillan; Follow Aditya on Twitter at @adityayk, David @davidlms25 and Robert @bobbymacReports. This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced in any form without permission)

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I formally request to the writer/editor/moderator to share this interview on my blog (purely for non-commercial use) providing proper credits to reuters.com. Kindly permit.

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