Political Branding on Social Media

Published by MBA Skool Team, Published on May 07, 2013

Social media is one of the easiest modes of communication today to connect with a large mass of people. A 140 character tweet can have a resounding impact all across the world;A two line Facebook post or comment can bring together a crowd. While companies have increasingly understood the importance and necessity of social media marketing, an unusual group of organizations that traditionally believed in crowded gatherings and newsletters as a means of connecting with the masses have also embraced this medium. The key product sold by these organizations is governance (good or bad is to be decided by the customers!) in return for ‘votes’.

With a growing population, especially in the middle class segment, that is almost addicted to social media and dreads the outdoor rallies and crowds, political parties too have tried to capture the vote bank through this medium. A less costly means of marketing, most political parties, and politicians individually too, have plunged into this new form of marketing.

While traditional branding required taglines, logos, emotional and aspirational elements and others, branding on social media demands this and much more. For example, if on Facebook, the brand is built by its attractive and meaningful cover-page pictures, the numbers and type of pages it has liked, the timely manner of its posts, its response time in replying and so on. While traditional branding and marketing could be done through posters and banners that were used over the years, branding on social media requires evolution of the political party/politician over shorter periods of time. It demands responding quickly with politically correct replies and posting a steady flow of updates. This also helps ensure transparency and accountability of the political party/political leader.

Political branding, especially on social media, can influence the breaking or making of a leader to a large extent. Shashi Tharoor, for one, has been at the receiving end of political branding on social media. Known as a tech-savvy, westernized Indian politician, his infamous tweet of ‘cattle class flying’ earned him a discerning look from even the middle class, who were looking out for a young, educated and sophisticated politician. Similarly Robert Vadra’s Facebook post, ‘Mango people in a Banana Republic’ too made such waves that even the other members of (Sonia) Gandhi family were affected. The criticism against Robert Vadra also spilled over into other social media platforms like Twitter and blogs.

The BJP has used its iconic leaderShri. AtalBihari Vajpayee (retired from active politics) in its social media space (as cover photo on Facebook). The Facebook page of Bharatiya Janata Party has the highest number of fans amongst all Indian political parties on Facebook (841,336). It uses one of the pictures of Atal Bihari Vajpayee with the Army Jawans as its cover photo - A leader who still lives on in the hearts of masses and fans on social media!!

Narendra Modi is another popular politician in the social media circles. He probably has the highest number of fans on Facebook (1,399,082) among all Indian politicians. 107,545 people were talking about him on Facebook. And he diligently and smartly engages users on his page with prompts updates about his various meetings, speeches and plans in a personalized manner that helps the user connect with him. He joined Facebook in 2009 and on an average makes 2-3 posts per day.Only the page admin is allowed to post on this page and as a result no conversation has been initiated by the fans.He has a large following of 1,332, 882 on Twitter also and has till date posted 2,153 tweets. He is a politician who has been able to brand himself well both online and offline. Social media has only enhanced his reach and till now not created any controversies for this great leader!

Others on Facebook include Rahul Gandhi with a fan following of 238,899, Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh with 374,641 fans, Mamata Banerjee with 226,071 fans, Priyanka Gandhi with 174,710 fans and UP chief minister AkhileshYadav with 93,390 fans. Almost every public figure and politician today try to brand themselves on the social media as the reach that this platform offers is large and unthinkable of in olden days.

Options like sharing and liking posts, re-tweeting tweets etc. make this medium an interesting one for political branding and marketing. Use of images and short captions further helps in enhancing the attachment of the brand with the online users. The people and organizations you follow, the comments you give a thumbs up to are all closely watched by the larger public. Your every move on the social media is scrutinized by the masses online and hence being political correct but without showing any weakness or indecision becomes absolutely necessary. Finance minister Chidambaram’s Google hangout with select members of the public post the budget presentation for a discussion on the merits and shortfalls of the budget also points to how important the government considers interacting with the masses on social media is.

Abroad too social media plays a predominant role in political branding. American elections too are significantly influenced by the social media marketing done by its leaders and main parties. Obama’s tweets are followed by over 27 million people world around.  In the Canadian election in 2012, Twitter featured as a predominant tool used by political parties and leaders to fight the general elections, making it Canada’s first ever social media election.

While political branding mostly relies on personal branding of the leaders, most of the political parties too have their ‘brand’ (party) pages and accounts on social media sites. If Tahrir square was a result of the publicity and communication on Facebook pages, the power of social media branding in the making or breaking of a leader cannot be overlooked. A slight overlook, a wrong smiley or an ill-timed post is all that needs to break the brand image painstakingly built so far. Social media is thus a double edged sword; it all depends which side of it you are using!

*All figures are as on date 05/3/2013.

This article has been authored by Gitanjali Maria from LIBA.

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