Centre for Internet & Society

Internet and social media giants such as Google and Facebook have launched special campaigns, pages and services around the Indian Lok Sabha elections to make the most of the world's largest democratic exercise that kicked off on Monday.

The article by Varuni Khosla was published in the Economic Times on April 10, 2014. Sunil Abraham is quoted.

Big and small social media companies are looking to use the poll fever to augment their businesses by wooing new users and generating more traffic.

Google, for example, recently launched an election page along with a Google Hangout series and a 'Pledge to Vote' and 'Know Your Candidates' campaign that featured 97-year-old Shyam Saran Negi from Himachal Pradesh who has voted in every election in Independent India. Twitter has come up with a 'Discover' section of curated tweets while Facebook has launched an election trackers as well as a 'Facebook Talks' page.

Indian social platform Vebbler has unveiled 'Ungli' campaign while telecom operator MTS has tied up with Social Samosa for an election tracker.

"While in the short run it may just be a branding exercise, in the long run it could result in more sign-ups and convert into a wider user base for these companies," said Bhupendra Khanal, CEO and co-founder at social business intelligence company Simplify360.

"But it also shows how important India is as a market for these companies — that they are looking at generating information beyond short-term revenues," he added. Khanal said the most popular hashtags with mentions in last 30 days are #Elections2014, which got 46,000 mentions, and #Election2014:, with 36,000 mentions.

This shows that social media users are following and discussing the elections and candidates constantly. Raheel Khursheed, head of news, politics and government at Twitter India, said election candidates across political parties are using Twitter platform to break news, answer questions and post 'selfies'.

"This page lets voters see all the official Twitter feeds from political parties and candidates and will let voters make an informed choice before they go and vote," he said.

Sunil Abraham, executive director at non-profit charitable organisation Centre for Internet and Society, said social media companies are looking at earning close to 10% of the entire media spend by political parties.

"When they have election related features on their site, they can tell their advertisers (political parties) that they are a serious platform that talks politics," he said. "Also, when a user clicks on these ads that are being put up by parties, social media companies are able to gain granular information about the user's likes and dislikes and therefore figure out how to advertise to them in the future," Abraham added.

These make it doubly attractive for social media companies to have such services.

Also, experts say that it doesn't cost much at all to set up these special pages and launch campaigns. "Spends on these campaigns could cost social media companies just about Rs 10-20 lakh - including making videos and setting up pages," a social media agency head said.

This person said that about 60 million people have been discussing Indian Elections on social media, even though there are just about 40 million Twitter users in India. "So, a lot of interest has been taken in the elections from other countries," the person added.

Close to 65% of India's population is under the age of 35 and more and more young people in the country are using social media.

The Internet and Mobile Association of India (IMAI) estimates that a well-executed social media campaign can swing 3%–4% of votes. "Digital advertising in India has increased by 30% this year and around Rs 3402 crore is expected to be spent in 2014. Of this, social media spend is close to Rs 300 crore according to IMRB," says James Drake-Brockman, head of digital marketing division, DMG :: events.