Karnataka Polls 2018: How BJP and Congress leverage social media during campaigns

BJP & Congress flag

With increasing internet connectivity and smartphone usage, social media is now a major platform for campaigning during elections.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress are on the last leg of their campaigns, with the Karnataka elections just around the corner. In an attempt to woo voters, both parties are going all out and attacking each other on social media, just as much as they are doing in rallies and roadshows.

Social media played an important part in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections that saw Narendra Modi and the BJP win big. With increased internet connectivity and smartphone usage, social media is being leveraged to the maximum during campaigning.

Here’s a break down of how both the parties are using the platform to emerge victorious.

Social media teams behind the scene

Behind the elaborate tweets, catchy hashtags, minute-to-minute updates of rallies, there are teams working all day long.

The Congress’ social media team is headed by the President of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC), Dinesh Gundu Rao, who has close to a 30-member team, an Economic Times report claimed.

Moneycontrol cannot independently verify the report.

The main objective of the team is digital penetration in every corner of the state, not just for the party, but CM Siddaramaiah and party President Rahul Gandhi as well. This team develops media strategies, content and structure of the party’s social media behaviour during a campaign.

Rahul Gandhi joined Twitter only in 2015 and now the micro-blogging site is an indispensable part of his campaign.

There are two social media teams for the BJP, one is for the party, while the other is for BS Yeddyurappa. BJP Karnataka social media handles are managed by a group of 30 people, headed by Balaji Srinivas. The chief ministerial candidate’s social media is handled by a political consultancy firm called Rajneethi, which also gives inputs about offline campaigning. The entire team consists of volunteers below 30 years of age.

Battle of the followers

BJP was one of the first parties to tap into the social media base during the 2014 general elections, therefore, it leads by a wide margin in terms of followers. BJP Karnataka has almost four times as many followers (178,860) as Congress Karnataka (45,771). There is little competition in followers on Facebook  as BJP Karnataka has over 6 lakh followers, while Congress Karnataka has a little under 3 lakh.

Hashtags that stick

A trending hashtag is one of the markers of a successful social media campaign, which is what both the parties are trying to achieve. Congress has used hashtags like #INC4Karnataka, #KarnatakaDefeatsBJP and the one for all of Rahul Gandhi’s speeches and rallies in the state, #JanaAashirwadaYatre.

BJP used recurring hashtags like #CongressMuktKarnataka, #BJPWaveInKarnataka and #KarnatakaTrustsModi.

Generic hashtags like #KarnatakaElections2018, #KarnatakaPolls were used by both parties in their posts to increase their Twitter engagement.

Content in social media

The BJP and Congress have not shied away from criticising or insulting the other. They have been quick in defending themselves against the insults, with response time of less than 5 minutes in most cases. Their language on social media is termed aggressive, since the teams are made of young volunteers.

Twitter has been used to share pictures from successful rallies and roadshows. Every speech and show is being live streamed. Big leaders of the party also retweeted posts from state party handles to boost engagement.

The Facebook account of both the parties carry content that is mostly in Kannada.

Further, messaging app WhatsApp has played an important role for both BJP and Congress in these campaigns. WhatsApp groups are usually used for microtargeting voters and give information to specific groups of voters. The ET report suggests that BJP has created over 23,000 WhatsApp groups with 80-100 members. The only drawback of WhatsApp is that once the message is forwarded, the sender cannot control it, while other networks give control to the party.

While both parties seem confident of a win in the state, it will only be known whose hashtags were more successful when results are announced on May 15.


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