Modi - Trump: Summit of world’s 2 leading social media champs

Ayush Gupta (@gptayu), a Twitter user with a modest 100 plus follows, tagged Narendra Modi saying he travelled to Nainital, a hill station, this summer. Modi’s handle retweeted the young man’s photo looking out a window towards the mountains and that got 6000 likes, more than 1200 retweets and 120 replies. A few months ago, Modi’s handle retweeted a wedding invitation from Akash Jain (@akash207) that plugged for Swachh Bharat or Clean India movement that Modi began when he swept to power. Jain became an instant celebrity, the Modi retweet is still his pinned post and has 9500 likes.

When Modi and Trump meet, it will be more than a first face-to-face between leaders of the world's two largest democracies, it marks the coming together of the world’s 2 leading social media champs with a combined Twitter base of 63 million follows; two men who have smashed political campaigning (and victory) dogmas riding on the heady network effects of free media.

The Indian PM has 30.7 million followers on his @narendramodi handle, started 2009; he follows a little over 1700 people. Modi has a sub handle for his personal website @narendramodi_in which has a 1.17 m base as of June 14. There's also @PMOIndia and a sub handle for the Narendra Modi app which crowdsources inputs for Modi's radio address, provides an infographics blast with with an official seal and offers content in more languages than any newspaper does.

Taken together, #ModiTrump have nearly 63 million follows on Twitter/ Reuters

Taken together, #ModiTrump have nearly 63 million follows on Twitter/ Reuters

Trump is at 32.2 million on his personal handle @realDonaldTrump and like Modi, Trump’s handle is also 2009 vintage. Trump follows 45 people, mostly family, White House coterie and many of his own gold plated properties. He has a running list of people he keeps blocking.

The mathematical underpinning of social networks tells us that Modi and Trump constitute important ‘vertices’ - defined as those with high number of connections, the clout of links between communities emerging from that network. Chances of their connecting on social networks remain high — Trump is known to hand out cellphone numbers, there’s no telling why he may not choose to follow Modi. Once that happens, it becomes the shortest path - the “between centrality” of two influential vertices - adding potential snowball effects to their following.

All that of course, is in the realm of academic interest.

In practise however, Modi and Trump are stark contrasts in how they utilise free media but they have amassed phenomenal following, proving that both coarseness and extreme curation work equally well to merit social media dominance.

Modi came to Twitter at a time when petitioning political rulers, newspaper editors and bureaucrats was still a shot in the dark at best. Ditto for US President Donald Trump. The year was 2009 and even as Twitter became a force multipleir in public and political communication, sceptics continued to believe that for the tease of access to truly matter, politicians had to change behaviour. Trump has made no effort to tuck away his bumper-sticker subtlety and depth for a more considered tone, he is still President and piling on Twitter follows at a brisk pace as controversies continue to dog him.

Trump’s cash burn on the election campaign was the lowest and contrary to popular opinion, Clinton’s seemingly better ground game did not give her a win. It is said that in close elections, social media may make that razor think difference. For Trump, it clearly paid off, It’s not helping him govern, though.

In Modi’s case, there’s no unhinged tweeting at 3 am. Within his social media teams, there’s no ambiguity on the no-go areas because the PM himself is a sophisticated user of these platforms. On his narendramodi_in handle, for instance, you won’t find a shred of politics or even the mention of his party name BJP.

Contrast that with how Trump was monitored during the Comey testimony so that he does not reach into his pocket and fire tweets before the lawyer weighed in. It was one of the only times in the last year that Trump did not tweet when the news cycle was at it juiciest. For Trump, political brinksmanship, insulting, name calling is all par for the course on his social handles.

While the #ModiTrump differences are stark, the social media success of both politicos is striking too.

It’s crucial to note here that the tech specs in both countries are worlds apart.

In the US, at least 7 in 10 adults get their news on a mobile device, 4 in 10 Americans get their news online, the mobile industry is gearing up for the next generation of wireless technology, “5G”, many service providers have already rolled out 5G wifi in homes and offices across the country. In India, 4G is a thing only now, wifi in public spaces is still nascent and rural mobile connectivity is thin.

For sheer size of network though, there are few social media equals to a Trump Modi combine.

Few citizens will ever get real ‘social’ access to political leaders who are big on ‘social’ media, yet the delicious thought that it just might happen remains mouthwatering.

Updated Date: Jun 15, 2017 06:01 AM

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