What happens when the nation's most important political parties appoint experts to lead social media teams? Irrespective of whether it is the Congress or the Bharatiya Janata Party that heads in the elections due next year, it is clear that Twitter and Facebook are winners of sorts. Coming in the wake of the Arab Spring and the Anna Hazare movement in India, it is clear that social media is going to play a role in the next elections as seen in this column more than a year ago.
But how do common people perceive the social media war between political groups? "Trending" with Twitter hashtags on leading topics may set the tone for mainstream media taking note of hot topics, but the real deal is the impressions that parties create in the minds of ordinary people and voters.
My guess is that the broadband and smartphone penetration in India, being under 150 million, is not big enough to directly influence voters, but the impressions that are created there will percolate across to other sections of the society.
What we should look out for next is no longer about the "buzz" but the "quality of impressions" generated by political groups on the social media. A recent study by Blogworks, a social media research practice, told us the obvious — that Narendra Modi is the most talked about figure on social media in India. However, over a period of time, we will need to know what kind of impressions in terms of positive and negative perceptions the conversations generate.
Hopefully, before the elections are due, much like pre-poll opinion polls, we will get qualitative impressions scientifically generated by data-crunching software and analyses. They are bound to be controversial, just like opinion polls. But that's certainly the next big thing in the impact of social media on the world's largest democracy. Hopefully, smart IT companies will get into it — at the risk of being perceived as political.