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Mumbai civic polls: Social media is the new door-to-door

WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter... it has never been easier to reach out to voters. And, candidates are making the most of it, appointing agencies, setting up social media war rooms and spending anything between Rs50,000 and Rs2 lakh to make their presence felt

mumbai Updated: Feb 18, 2017 00:44 IST
Surendra P Gangan
Inside the NCP’s social media war room in Mumbai’s  Parel, workers check the party’s social media pages ahead of the civic polls.
Inside the NCP’s social media war room in Mumbai’s Parel, workers check the party’s social media pages ahead of the civic polls.(Pratik Chorge/HT )

WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter... it has never been easier to reach out to voters. And, candidates are making the most of it, appointing agencies, setting up social media war rooms and spending anything between Rs50,000 and Rs2 lakh to make their presence felt.

Helping them are agencies and campaign managers, designing tailor-made social media campaigns to suit the candidates’ voter base and area to talk directly with voters based on their linguistic profile, gender and age-groups.

So how exactly does it work?

“Most candidates in big cities such as Mumbai and Thane are active on social media. We create dedicated pages, write posts with pictures and video clips; and we take the content to the people,” said Sumeet Dudhe, the 25-year old owner of S-Soft Services, which is handling the campaigns for more than 30 candidates in Mumbai.

Dudhe’s service, for instance, customises campaigns to target potential voters by first making a list from the huge data of mobile numbers. “We use pincode numbers and GPS-enabled mechanisms to prepare the list of voters for a particular ward. Then we shortlist voters by age and language they speak. We ask the candidates which group they want to target and the campaign content is sent to those shortlisted users.”

A Bhartiya Janata Party candidate from the Shiv Sena stronghold of Lalbaug, for instance, is taking the help of an agency to find out the number non-Marathi voters in his ward. The expenditure: Rs 40,000. In the months following that exercise, his ward-level party workers focused on the group of 24,000 voters identified as non-Marathi to get their votes. “The identified voters are sent SMSes, voicecalls and video films by the party. This will help us bag all targeted votes,” said a party leader from the local unit.

Congress candidate Nitesh Singh from ward 166 in Kurla said he has made short films highlighting his party’s work and its plans for the area once elected.

Behind every active social media campaign today went months of research and profiling of potential voters, sources in the know said.

“Before designing posters, frames and video clips, we conduct research identifying the issues in the wards. The issues differ for every demography and the party the candidate represents. The promises are designed based on this. If a candidate is fighting against sitting corporators, their failures are highlighted,” said Sanket Nalawade, who handles the social media campaign for dozens of candidates in different parts of the city.

Innovation always wins, said campaign managers.

Vaibhav Chhaya, who handled the social media campaign of former CM Vilasrao Deshmukh’s youngest son Dhiraj Deshmukh in the district council elections in Latur, said innovative ideas like ‘selfie with sheti’ — where farmers were asked to take a selfie with their farmlands — worked out well during the campaign.

According to players in the field, the BJP is leading in the use of social media. Not only do they highlight the party’s achievements and publicise its manifesto, the party’s war room wastes no time when it comes to countering criticism. “When we find damaging allegations against the party or its leaders, we release clips from their speeches, either in retaliation or to clarify the point raised. Similarly, when we found an objectionable photograph featuring CM Devendra Fadnavis was being circulated on social media, we lodged a police complaint,” said Devang Dave, who is in-charge of the BJP’s social media campaign.

Six months ago, the party also trained 6,000 party workers and volunteers and ensured at least two of them are appointed in each BMC ward to take manage social media accounts. The party claims to have reached at least 50% of Mumbai’s voters personally through various platforms of social media.

In the opposition, the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party, have not been as effective on social media. “They have been using the platforms that come free of charge and have avoided putting up sponsored content,” said an insider, privy to campaigns by these parties.

The candidates from major parties spend anything between Rs 50,000 to Rs 2 lakh on the campaign in the social media. “For candidates with fair chances of victory and sound party support, the expenditure is anywhere between Rs1.5 lakh to Rs 2 lakh. But there are also some candidates who keep it limited to Rs50,000,” a campaign manager said, not wishing to be named. The permissible election expenditure set by the Election Commission per candidate is Rs10 lakh.

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