Cong’s social media unit, on auto-pilot since LS polls, needs a new head
According to several Congress leaders, the front runners for the post are Alva, All India Congress Committee media co-ordinator Rohan Gupta, national spokesperson Pawan Khera, and Indian Youth Congress National campaign in-charge Srivatsa YB.Updated: Aug 29, 2019 18:51 IST
The Indian National Congress is looking for a new social media head. Ever since actor turned politician Divya Spandana resigned from the post after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections concluded, the party’s social media platforms have been functioning on auto-pilot, save for former president Rahul Gandhi’s own account which is managed by Nikhil Alva.
According to several Congress leaders, the front runners for the post are Alva, All India Congress Committee media co-ordinator Rohan Gupta, national spokesperson Pawan Khera, and Indian Youth Congress National campaign in-charge Srivatsa YB. All four declined comment. KC Venugopal, general secretary in charge of organisation, has already met with some of the candidates, according to the leaders.
Delhi-based media strategist Alva has been handling Gandhi’s social media since 2017 when the latter took over as president of the party (he resigned in May). Alva was credited with increasing Gandhi’s followers from 2.5 million to 10.5 million on twitter.
Rohan Gupta was in charge of social media during the Gujarat poll campaign in which Congress did reasonably well, winning 77 of the 182 seats in the state assembly. He is currently a national spokesperson for the party.
The third candidate, Srivatsa, was the social media president of the Karnataka Congress, and is now part of the Youth Congress’s election team working on campaign and communication strategies. Pawan Khera, part of the publicity and publication committee, is also a national spokesperson. He has been managing the social media team in the last few weeks, said party officials.
One Congress leader said on condition of anonymity that the party felt the need for a social media head strongly during the recent 75th birth anniversary of the late Rajiv Gandhi. Although Spandana has resigned, her team of five coordinators continues to be part of the social media cell of the party -- but without a leader.
The Congress’s social media journey started sometime in 2009 when some of its social media influencers ran pro-Congress groups on Orkut. Unofficial efforts continued until former Rohtak MP Deepender Hooda was announced the party’s social media head in 2012.
Between June and October 2013, the party launched Facebook and Twitter accounts, as well as its website.
The party now has accounts on Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. Gandhi’s twitter account, @RahulGandhi went from somewhere around 5 million users in early 2018 to 10.5 million followers currently. A new account dedicated to his Wayanad office -- @RGWayanadOffice -- has 18.3K followers already. His Facebook has 3 million followers, while his Instagram has 890,000 followers.
The party’s twitter (@incindia), Facebook (@IndianNationalCongress) and Instagram (@incindia) accounts have 5.6 million, 5.4 million and 542,000 followers respectively.
All these numbers pale in comparison to the Bharatiya Janata Party and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s metrics on social media. Modi has 49.6 million Twitter followers, 27.2 followers on his instagram page, and 44 million Facebook followers.
Experts say the numbers highlight the growing importance of social media in politics, especially during elections, and also the challenge faced by the Congress. Digital and political communications expert Abin Theepura who has helped political parties in digital campaigns said that every political party needs to have a formidable digital imprint, even if they don’t have a strong grassroots structure in place. “Just as they consume news, party supporters and sympathisers also seek relevant content or information online. So, it’s very important to get the messaging strategy spot on and ensure that the right message is delivered on the right digital platform. Recent elections have shown us that much of a party’s agenda-setting, electoral strategy and even plans to counter the opposition plays out mostly on social media,” said Theepura.
According to data provider Statista, at last count, India has 260 million active Facebook accounts, 30.4 million Twitter accounts, 69 million Instagram ones, and 45 million LinkedIn ones. Early this year, NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant said that around 400 million Indians are on WhatsApp, the most popular messaging platform in the country. In the 2019 elections, 900 million Indians were eligible to vote and over 600 million voted. And a Pew study states that 320 million Indians have a smart phone.
While party president Sonia Gandhi does not have official social media accounts, party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s accounts are run by her team in coordination with the social media team.