Okay, post sabbatical Rahul, who are you and what have you done with the real Congress vice president?
It's all a little too much to digest. First, we saw him stand up and make a speech to farmers that didn't invoke gems like 'escape velocity to Jupiter' and 'India is a beehive'. Instead, he actually spoke with a modicum of empathy and didn't contribute to India's political lexicon of (un)quotable quotes.
Next, we saw him in Parliament. Then, we saw him actually speak in Lok Sabha - not once, but twice. And both times, he was sardonic and witty, taking the BJP government completely by surprise.
And now the man has done the unthinkable. He has actually joined Twitter!
This is a gutsy move that was long overdue, given that over the last few years, India's Twitterscape has mostly been dominated by Congress hating, Modi-RSS loving, abusive trolls who operate in catchphrases like 'Pappu', 'Italian Waitress' and 'Congi dogs'. That he is going to be fresh meat for them is obvious.
But he is going to have to stick it out, given that his lack of presence on social media, and the Congress' inability to latch on to its has been seen as a major factor for the massive loss the Congress faced in the 2014 Lok Sabha election.
A report by Social Samosa, which analysed the social media strategies of the major political parties in the run up to the polls noted that the party adopted a "reactive approach to the online popularity and reach of opposition party BJP which launched a well organized and planned social media strategy".
At the time, Congress spokesperson Priyanka Chaturvedi also admitted that the Congress woke up "too late" to social media.
And that is why Rahul now has to make this count. The Congress vice president is up against an extremely sophisticated social media machine. The way the BJP and RSS have used social media has been an exemplary model of how to best utilise technology and interactive mediums to further political goals and ideologies.
He cannot afford to be a repeat performance of the drab PMOIndia account that was used by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. So he has his task cut out for him.
But here are some basic rules of engagement that Rahul Gandhi would do well to follow:
1. Please let your account be more than just a PR machine
Yes, Twitter is a great way of letting the world know exactly what you are doing, but please don't restrict your account to simple updates of "Rahul Gandhi at xxx, doing xxx."
The first tweet from the account does not look very promising given that it says, "Watch this space for information and updates on Rahul Gandhi's official programs and upcoming events".
This can't be the sum total of everything the Twitter account is about. There should be some tweets from Rahul Gandhi himself - they can be signed RG, like Obama signs his personal tweets BO.
He, then, has the freedom to comment about national news events, or events that are currently gripping the public conscience, without having to deal with a barrage of media questions. Narendra Modi used this to great effect. He managed to utilise Twitter and Facebook to talk directly to his supporters while skipping the uncomfortable questions that reporters were bound to ask.
In fact, he managed to avoid giving any interviews to any media agencies until he was very late into his poll campaign, and by then it was pretty evident that he was going to win.
2. You don't have to reply to every troll who tweets at you
Clearly, there are going to be a lot of these. Rahul Gandhi on Twitter is every trolls most lurid fantasy come alive. After having to restrict themselves to comment forums on websites and the social media accounts of anyone who said anything even marginally sympathetic about the Congress, they can now actually tweet at a real live Gandhi. The tweets at Rahul's account are probably garbled due to the sheer need for them to get a lot of their sheer 'feelings' out of the way. But he should not engage. Repeat, Rahul. DO NOT ENGAGE.
The last thing we want is a PR type account - you know the kind run by most brands - that mostly say things like "Sorry you are upset at our performance, we will try to do better next time" and that use an inordinate amount of smiley faces. Please, no.
3. Don't hate the parody accounts
Lets face it, Rahul. You're Rahul. So there are going to be a lot of parody accounts. But please don't do a PMO India (circa Manmohan) and try and shut them down. As we noted at the time, parody accounts are an integral part of Twitter - more so perhaps than the verified ones. They are the soul of social media in a sense. They are a legitimate way for us ordinary folks to poke fun at you.
And believe us, you will be in some esteemed company. Among verified public personalities with parody Twitter accounts are Barack Obama, and Queen Elizabeth. In fact we strongly recommend that if a parody account doesn't organically crop up, you get someone you know to create one for you. <nudge, wink>
4. Learn from the masters
In this case, as much as he may loathe PM Modi and the BJP, and try to set himself up in opposition to them at every turn, he would do well to gather a tip or three from them on how to run a successful social media campaign.
From organising supporters, to ensuring he trends on Twitter for the right reasons, to giving people exactly what they need to create a buzz with regard to issues, the BJP played social media like masters. He would do well to look at how they did that. AAP has also shown itself to be a formidable player in the social media space, and the Congress vice president has expressed admiration for the party's unconventional tactics before.
In social media after all, there are no patents.
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Updated Date: May 08, 2015 16:36:33 IST