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The evolution of political campaigns – from autos to Instagram

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Barack Obama’s campaign success in the 2008 US Presidential elections paved the way for what is now the only way to manage mammoth political campaigns. After the massive use of new media tools for electoral mobilization, the world is seeing a surge in adoption of similar methods for canvassing. This holds true especially for India, where we first saw the use of social media for canvassing by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in the 2014 general elections. Or even during the Anna Hazare movement, when we witnessed the success of digital toolsin registering influence over the country.This change in strategy not only scripted their success, but also firmly established the mandate of new media tools in the success of political campaigns.

However, this story a decade ago was much different from what it is now. Do you remember the afternoons that were spent listening to loudspeakers mounted on autos that would blare through neighbourhoods, canvassing for different political parties? Streets and walls would be littered with faces of candidates with folded hands and smiling faces, and youngsters would face the wrath of the summer heat wearing neckties, just so they could come talk to you about their political leanings and why you should align with them.

This was the most basic form of canvassing, a term that is now hard to find amidst the ever-evolving millennial lingo. Today, it is all about texting voters directly about how to get to their polling booths, livestreaming a candidate’s rally, making Tik Tok videos about the next campaign trail, and then some more.Digital campaigning has gained a stronghold in the political landscape, and how!

A mere one-line update on Facebook or Twitter has today evolved into fundraising campaigns and manifesto dissemination, especially through website landing pages, popular hashtags, WhatsApp videos and other forms of millennial advertisement. Even recruiting volunteers for a particular party is now easier done through a Snapchat or Instagram post.

That’s because social media has increased the onslaught of public opinion owing toto the constant inflow of knowledge. Social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook have encouraged people to come out and express themselves.This is one major reason why all political parties are now leaning towards the digital medium and integrating it across campaigns. This is where all their voters are!

The capacity of digital marketing has also grown over the years, thanks to constant innovations on data collection and analysis.Identifying and targeting the right audience is now so much easier, since social media is woven intricately into our daily lives. Platforms are able to get infinite amount of information about users, their likes, dislikes, activities, and even the causes they support. Facebook and Google are playing titular roles in political operations, offering a wide range of digital marketing tools and techniques designed to reach out to users for political canvassing. Digital videos have also entered the political arena, through creation of emotional content that resonates with the audience and can be effectively used by political parties to influence opinions in their favour.

And it’s not just the tools, but also the people who use it, that has transformed political campaigning. Leaders are leaving no stone unturned in utilizing their social channels to influence political opinion. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has close to 44 million users, and is the world’s third-most followed leader on Twitter after Donald Trump and Pope Francis. Other politicians like Rahul Gandhiand Sushma Swaraj are also highly active on different platforms and interact with followers regularly.These strategies are now a mandatory part of new-age canvassing.

The trend will only rise and political effectiveness is going to rely solely on new media. Will it also influence political decisions? It is very early to say. The number of internet users in India, and the number of new voters using social media, is increasing every day. It is possible that they could be swayed through new media tools, something that was not possible through formal media. However, one thing is clear – leaders and political parties looking to engage the society must demonstrate their capabilities on social networks to be able to exert their influence and ensure political success.

By: Pranshu Sikka,CEO and founder at The Pivotals

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