Jun 2019

Today, nearly everyone has an online profile. If you are not online, you might as well not exist. In a time and age when babies (#babiesofinstagram) and even pets (#petsofnstagram, #dogsofinstagram) have online profiles, it is no wonder that world leaders and election nominees have online profiles too. It has increasingly become important for our world leaders to have a presence online, share their views and opinions and interact with citizens. When a huge chunk of their vote bank is coming from online, why ignore the platform at all? In continuation of the #HappyHourLive in April, continue on to finding some stats on how advertising spends on digital are all set to grow exponentially and reading my thoughts on how citizens and candidates can use digital/social media to their benefit.

In 1960, John F Kennedy leveraged TV to win the presidential election and ever since videos have become an integral part of the election campaigns. If the past few years are anything to go by, online presence and digital campaigns have done wonders for candidates and their eventual victory. Candidates who have an online presence are perceived as liberal, willing to advance with the times and possibly make progressive reforms for the growth of their nation. Any stat or research to back this claim?

Source: E-Marketer

This is indeed good news, a step in the right direction for governments and incidentally for the advertising industry as well. Markets such as the US have seen the benefits of candidates being online and recent surveys can link? have shown that the effect is just as huge in the Asian markets as well. Majority of the Asian countries had/have elections this year (India, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines to name a few). Advertising revenue in the Asia-Pacific is set to grow by more than 6% in 2019, topping US$180 billion according to research by Media Partners Asia. A major chunk of this increase is being attributed to the elections across various APAC locations this year and in some places Cricket (World Cup happening in 2019) as well. All in all social media is all set to contribute a significant amount towards the overall advertising revenue in the next 5 years. 

Source: Mumbrella Asia

Role of online media in elections

In India, Narendra Modi has millions of followers on his active Twitter, Facebook & Instagram profiles and he was one of the first among Indian leaders to set up a LinkedIn profile as well to become an influencer. He is also very active on most of his social pages. He was able to connect with the masses through traditional channels and he was able to capture the attention of the intellectual/corporate working class at the same time. His was probably the right mix of offline and online presence or at least it seems so now after he won a second term. In India, internet penetration is not extremely high, especially in the rural parts. However, a majority of the vote bank for political parties reside in the rural parts. Given this scenario, the use of online presence to attract and reach the population in cities, coupled with offline presence across the rural parts was a good strategy. This is of course, in addition to the fact that Narendra Modi is an excellent orator and has the required connection with the citizens of India, which made for an excellent campaign.

Similarly, in the Philippines, President Duterte’s 2016 victory was a result of innovative digital campaigning. In a country where Facebook is very prevalent, where 97% of Filipinos are online on Facebook, Duterte made very good use of his digital presence, by hiring strategists who helped transform his online presence dramatically. The campaign itself, though divisive was impressive and President Duterte also had a very strong base of loyal and engaged fans. Some of the strong reasons for his win were the growing differences between urban and rural voting and the growing overseas votes (Filipinos staying away from the Philippines), which he catered to, through his media campaign mix. 

Source: Rappler

How to go about using online media responsibly?

As always, with great power comes great responsibility. Online presence is good but it should also be a responsible presence. Both major parties in India, have a separate social team that strategizes and generates content that is circulated across the various social platforms. A lot of this information, in the form of Facebook posts, Instagram stories, Twitter tweets are sometimes just gimmicks. There have been various instances of fake profiles, with millions of followers that spread fake news, troll opponents, launch online attacks etc. all in the interest of instigating  certain kind of sentiments. More often than not, it’s the sentiment that a voter relates to, which leads them to vote for a specific candidate.

This has been the case across most countries during elections. There has always been and always will be room to play around with facts and allowance for misrepresentation of oneself on a media channel. As the general public that stands to benefit or lose from who gets elected to govern them, it is very important for us to differentiate the fake from the real and avoid unnecessary and impulsive reactions to fake posts/videos, trolling and veiled online attacks. 

Conversely, it also applies to the various election candidates that they use the platforms responsibly and shun away any anti-social activities or people propagating such activities. 

Facebook allows candidates  to showcase themselves online and also allows their fans to search and locate them from various constituencies (a feature that was available in the India region). As a platform, Facebook is being responsible in educating its users. From the time that a political party decides to use the platform to the time that it wins the elections, Facebook works towards deepening ties with them to help them maximise the platform’s potential and encourages the use of best practices at all times. It’s time that the candidates also utilise the platforms in the right way and refrain from instigating communal sentiments, spreading fake news and misusing the digital/online space.

Why should political parties and election nominees go for online campaigns? 

Well, the kind of precision in targeting that digital platforms allow and the kind of analysis that can be done post campaign is reason enough. Add to this the ease of set up and control on spends that online media provides and you have it made. Despite the various developments in traditional media till date, digital gives incomparable levels of tracking, measurement and control on spends that no form of traditional media does. 

Yes, you can track offline channels as well but digital platforms give you the power to track down to the level of pinpointing an exact latitudinal and longitudinal location of your target audience. Also, one can be sure that they are sending the right message to the right set of audiences out there. You can then also measure who consumed the information you put out there, in great detail as well.

As I shared earlier, in most cases, people vote based on the sentimental connect they have with the candidates or parties and therefore being present at the right place and right time makes a lot of difference on who gets the coveted seat.

Hima Bindu