Centre for Internet & Society

It was 2015. Rahul Gandhi, Congress vice president then, met Mount Carmel College students in Bengaluru. Soon after the interaction, there were media reports on how Gandhi was stumped by the questions.

The article by Ipsita Basu was published in the Economic Times on March 31, 2018. Sunil Abraham was quoted.

While everybody was debating what really transpired in the auditorium, a 20-something Elixir Nahar wrote an open letter to Gandhi which said: ‘Thanks for stopping by, Rahul Gandhi. You were inspiring’.

It was the letter’s outspokenness and stating of facts that caught the imagination of everyone, especially on social media. The blog post went viral and was shared widely across digital platforms. In 2017, Nahar became part of the Congress social media cell when the party wanted to increase the party’s digital outreach.

Digital-savvy influencers are now an essential part of social media teams of political parties, which know that a viral tweet or a post can mean immense visibility. Knowing that traditional means like door-todoor campaigning and rallies have limited reach towards millennials, parties are making sure that the right messaging is sent out through such influencers, who usually have a large following on platforms like Twitter, Facebook and even Instagram.

According to Sunil Abraham, executive director, the Centre for Internet and Society, a Bengalurubased organisation looking at multidisciplinary research and advocacy works in internet and society, “Internet communication is becoming more and more sophisticated. Social media is not impressed by just ghost accounts and mass propagation. Influencers come with their own brand and credibility and this constitutes into more articulate and targeted communication, which is an engaging way to speak to a constituency."

Shilpa Ganesh, star wife and state vice president of BJP Mahila Morcha, is an intrinsic part of the party’s social media outreach. With 56,000 followers on Twitter and close to 2,00,000 on Facebook, she makes for a formidable influencer. “Most of my posts get a huge traction. I spend about 15-18 hours on various social media platforms to track news and restrict issue-related posts to at least twice a day,” she says.

Working on such social media teams is a draw for young corporates, IT professionals and college students who want to experience the power of digital media. Kamran Shahid, 28, a simulation engineer with a German car company, has taken a break, to work for the Aam Aadmi Party. Shahid, who now oversees the party’s state social media, was chosen for his knack with words and digital content.

Influencers are picked depending on their online popularity, proficiency to articulate on the Internet and the number of followers across platforms. The identities of those working in the background are kept under wraps. Review meetings are held every week to discuss the next strategy. Actor and former Mandya MP Divya Spandana, the chief of social media and digital communications of the Congress, has put together a mid-size team for digital outreach. “We’ve chosen people from diverse backgrounds who share our ideology. Each one brings a specific skill set to our team,” says Spandana, who is on the phone 24x7 tracking social media developments.

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