Last Sunday when Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi launched a unique election campaign, using 3D holographic technology to simultaneously address rallies in four different cities, he once again displayed that his PR machinery is in tune with the times.
Modi seems to know how to use social media with a view to promote Brand Modi — a point made in a report published in this paper which analysed his Twitter personality vis-a-vis his public personality.
“In political rallies, Modi roars with demagogic speeches. On Twitter, he displays a softer, brooding side,” said the report, quoting examples of Modi’s ‘soft’ tweets (“Powers of the mind are like rays of light”) with only occasionally a political challenge thrown in (“Delhi Sultanate treats Gujarat like enemy nation but Gujarat will never bow”).
Analysts say Modi, like many others in the public eye, is using the medium to build an alternate online image in order to win a new set of audiences.
Political scientist and constitutional expert Subhash Kashyap says, “In political arena there was a public face and a private face. With social media, now a third face, meant for limited circulation has also emerged.”
New politician Arvind Kejriwal uses social media, as does the BJP’s Sushma Swaraj, among other leaders.
In the recent US presidential elections, both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney used social media, with Obama’s victory tweet ‘Four more years’ with a picture becoming the most shared picture in the history of Twitter.
Professor Kamal Mitra Chenoy, Centre for Comparative Politics and Political Theory says, “We cannot compare Twitter in US politics to that in India, as most Indian politicians and masses do not use Twitter. But Twitter here is effective for those who have already developed a persona in media. It can be instrumental in deflecting the negative image.”
The ways of using Twitter too are evolving with time, with an eye on strategy. This shows in instances of those in public offices taking up Twitter enthusiastically, only to slow down later.
Political analyst and columnist Tehseen Poonawalla, says: “The parties sometimes ask their elected representatives to slow down on Twitter because sometimes their personal stand has been misconstrued as the party’s.”
The timing of tweets are crucial as well. For example, Siddhartha Mallya tweeting about his lifestyle while there was a crisis at Kingfisher.
Both Siddhartha and Vijay Mallya had to pay the price of tweeting impulsively. Even Rupert Murdoch apologised recently on Twitter after comments about ‘Jewish-owned’ press for their coverage of Israel.
However Chenoy stresses that Twitter will always be an add-on medium, not to be replaced by debates, speeches and rallies specially in our political set-up.
Social commentator Santosh Desai, says, “Twitter is perhaps the first medium that has created an ‘individual identity programme’ in Indian political scene.”
Ravi Sundaram, fellow, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, points out, “All your Twitter followers are not your voters but then politics is also about perceptions.”
Charismatic Leader: Social media experts say that the US President’s Twitter style is quite in sync with his public style. Says sociologist Shiv Visvanathan: “Obama’s speeches are like tweets; short, telegraphic and hard hitting.” Psychiatrist Jitendra Nagpal says, “In speeches, his charisma is compelling, his confidence infectious.” He brings his family man image in public speeches as well. His victory speech said: "Sasha and Malia, before our very eyes you're growing up to be two strong, smart, beautiful young women, just like your mom." Poonawalla says: “He is not afraid to show his human side. His family man image has surely got him many followers.”Sundaram, says of his speeches delivered in public, “Obama knows how to engage a rally. His dialogues are strong, scripted but delivered with honesty.”
Urbane Outlook: “Obama addresses the same audience in real and virtual worlds, unlike politicians here,” says Desai. “There is a syncronisation between Obama in public and Obama on Twitter,” says Visvanathan. Also, image guru Dilip Cherian says, “Obama seems to have better people working on his online image. US politicians have moved to the next phase, where they know Twitter isn’t just to make announcements.” During the campaign, Obama tweeted: “It’s out of my hands now. It’s in yours...” Says Jitender Nagpal, “It gives followers a feeling of importance and also shows the humility of the leader.” Also, adds Nidhi Lal, image consultant, Image Catalyst, “On Twitter Obama is impulsive but in a responsible way. He understands that the net has its own ethics and is using it to advantage.”
Serious and Sombre: It is no state secret that the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh uses his words sparingly. Poonawalla says, “Dr Singh is soft-spoken and is not one to make random unnecessary comments ever.” Visvanathan says that this personality trait is evident on Twitter as well “PM’s reticience is well known both in public as well as on social media.”
Chenoy says, “PM is not an orator and neither very aggressive and that reflects in his public persona. His speeches are serious and delivered in a matter-of-fact manner. There is no vivaciousness to hold attention.” Desai says, “The prime minister is following the traditional route both in public and on Twitter.”
Old world?: Visvanathan says, “The PM’s Twitter account is the worst handled. Even if it is the PM’s office that tweets, there has to be a projection of the personality of the PM or the office.” Cherian, however, says: “The PMO account is working according to a plan. The tweets are official statements, never a viewpoint or subjective; they match well with PM’s personality.” The PMO tweets initiatives introduced by Govt. Chenoy says, “Nobody’s interested in technical details. He’s never tweeted about creating a million jobs by 2013.” Observers say that PM Twitter account have led to little interest, except the Ghalib couplet tweet “Hazaaron jawabon se...” after Parliament was stalled. Poonawalla explains, “the PM is fond of Urdu poetry and the tweet showed that poetic side of him.”
Modish Minister: Desai says, “Tharoor is erudite and has a sense of humour, even when he is publicly addressing a rally. His confidence reflects in his mannerisms.” Chenoy says, “Tharoor’s persona is chic, clever and his stint in the UN has made him more refined.” Through his speeches he comes across practical and willing to own shortcomings. In a speech he delivered in 2009, he honestly said, “As long as India is super-poor it cannot call itself super-power.” Tharoor’s speeches are involving and full of anecdotes.
Image manager Pooja Shah, says, “Everything from his suave mannerisms to his touchy-feely display of love towards his wife shows him to more human and real than many other politicians who seem to caricaturing a boring public role. He does have a power to connect, though more readily in the cosmopolitan culture.”
Honest, though Foot-in-Mouth: Poonawalla says, “Tharoor’s Twitter personality isn’t different from his public one, though he’s perhaps wiser after he lost his ministry thanks to many foot-in-mouth situations.” Many say Indians are not ready to separate the minister from the person, hence his tweets may be perceived in a different light sometimes. His sense of humour is apparent in his Twitter personality, as well.” Tharoor is a master of words and that’s a trait he likes to show off on the online medium as well. Visvanathan terms Tharoor “The cultured boy of Twitter whose following may not necessarily be political.” Tharoor’s tweets about call to work on Gandhi Jayanti may have upset some but were honest. Poonawalla adds, “It’ll be interesting to see if his tweets change as he’s got the ministry again.”
Aggressive Orator: The CM of Gujarat has not only built a public image of a skilled, powerful orator but also of an astute statesman who takes pride in showcasing his achievements in a larger than life frame. Cherian says, “The Gujarat CM is aggressive in his rallies, displaying his defined and precise state of mind. He comes across as someone who has no second thoughts.”
Modi’s nonchalance is reflected in his many scathing rally comments. Recently while addressing a rally Modi remarked: “Sonia (Gandhi’s) speech in Rajkot was devoid of substance. And when media couldn’t find anything interesting, they published big photographs of her.” Experts point out Modi has been known to take digs at opponents in speeches. Nagpal says, “It’s natural for anyone to be more real in a public rally because it’s a face to face interaction. It’s more likely to be impromptu in public than when typing text online devoid of witnessing audience’s real reaction.”
Strategic Showman: “On twitter Modi is more measured and sophisticated,” says Cherian. Indeed, his tweets are preachy in nature. Chenoy’s says, “With Twitter Modi may be trying to sanitise his image.” Visvanathan says, “Modi’s tweets are designer tweets. They are calculated, focused, muted. It’s clear that he’s trying to project himself as the future PM.” He tweeted earlier this week quoting Vivekananda: “If it's impossible to attain perfection now, there's no proof we can attain perfection in any other life.” Another recent tweet: "Religion is neither talk, nor theory, nor intellectual consent. It is realisation...” is poles apart from his stronger emotions in one-to-one interviews and meetings. Chenoy adds, “With his tweets Modi seems to stress he’s the only CM to have madeGujarat modern. Though there are others like former CM Keshubhai Patel who’ve done a lot for the state, since others don’t counter Modi’s claims on Twitter, it’s a win-win situation for him.”
Open and Confident: Abdullah’s personality in his public speeches and rallies is that of someone who wants to speak his mind. Lal says, “Omar is a natural speaker whose appeal lies in the transparent attitude he takes towards issues.” says Poonawalla: “The way he conducts himself and even takes on the issues that can have a controversial outcome shows his confidence and a generational change in Indian politics.’’
Addressing the assembly recently he said, “Some people are trying to create an impression that my government is behaving like a puppet government...I assure you no one is running this government through remote control.”
New Gen-Twitter: Shah says, “Omar seems naturally adept to use the system well. He has a knack to voice his issues honestly.” Poonawalla says, “When he started off, he showed streaks of a fiery Twitter personality but now it’s more suppressed. But it was brave to have tweeted on issues that could create potential problems.” He adds, “When Omar tweeted about Afzal Guru, it created problems.” Shah adds, “Omar retains that fiery spirit somewhat despite his tweets have become scant”. Recently he tweeted: “So Hamas are terrorists but Kasab was a ‘gunman’. Well done, American media you really call it like it is. Sarcasm..”
Celebrities and the world of twitter
Celebrity image consultant, Nidhi Lal says, “Today an online image for a celebrity could well determine how well he or she will be able to chart her success.”
Everyone from an Amitabh Bachchan to Shah Rukh Khan has realised it importance but perhaps it’s starlets, who need the publicity most, who have understood the medium better and have been trying to build their entire public image on Twitter, some doing so successfully.
Shah says, “Somone one like Poonam Pandey has more than 3 lakh followers because she has a strategy that works well for someone who wants to be in the public eye.”
She also knows how to grab eyeballs by keeping the suspense on what issue she will tweet about next. “So while she has been keeping her followers updated about her impending movie, recently she tweeted: ‘Respect for Bal Thackrey. Shooting for Nasha will resume after paying respects”.
Pop star Lady Gaga is one of the best examples of how Twitter can make you the biggest celebrity on web.
“Gaga engages her followers by calling them Little Monsters. She is always having a free-wheeling conversation with her followers,” says Lal.
However, celebrity managers say, this does not work for all, there has to be a certain sharp tact that is to be involved.
A Mumbai based image manager says on anonymity, “Recently a wannabe actress from across the border wanted us to handle her Twitter profile. He brief was to create controversy online to make her a household name. But mindless trolling isn’t really the recipe to rule on Twitter.”
Twitter also is a favoured medium for celebs because it gives them a chance to interact directly. Actor Gul Panag who attributes part of her fame to Twitter says, “Before Twitter I was this extremely alternate Bollywood actor who would do roles that may interest only a certain genre of audiences. However thanks to Twitter my online space has grown.”
She adds: “I’m not sure if people who interact with me on Twitter are interested in what I do professionally.”
But she says: “I’ve have been on Twitter for about three years and it has brought out the real person for all to see. Something that 12 years of cinema and numerous interviews couldn’t do.”