Hashtags, trends, tweets: behind Cong’s social media blitzkrieg, a buzzing team

The Congress social media team is in a state of overdrive to follow the rapid political developments within the party and outside and also for digital outreach with physical rallies postponed due to Covid. The digital perception management plans of all political parties, having a footprint on Internet platforms, all had to adapt very quickly to the Omicron wave which imposed severe restrictions on traditional methods of electoral campaigns and the team Congressional social media is no different.

Based in Mohali and present in all Assembly districts and constituencies, an aggressive social media campaign has been launched by the Congress’ “digital warriors”, led by their national digital coordinator and Punjab official, Gaurav Pandhi.

“We set up a war room in October in Sector 70 of Mohali. We have a core team of 25 members and many volunteers who work remotely. We have also announced a team that includes members of the Social Media Department Office at state and district levels and in each assembly constituency,” Pandhi said.

Explaining the work done by the digital campaign headquarters, Pandhi here says the team creates content in political strategy. “The distribution of this content is done at the level of social media. We currently have 10,000 active Whatsapp groups in Punjab. These groups have people from the ridings. For our own party workers, we have existing groups which number around 7,000,” he says.

Pandhi says the Punjab Congress social media campaign gained momentum and kicked into high gear as the new year dawned. “We also have a Facebook page. We are number one in Punjab on traffic. Commitments are over 8 million today. Until a few days ago, this space was occupied by the AAP, which shows that the acceptance of the Congress is growing throughout Punjab,” he said.

The digital campaign must be conducted in consultation with political leaders. And in a fractured Congress in the state, that can be a daunting task. However, the digital team was able to set up the coordination. “Our goal is more in coordination with the leadership. We were able to coordinate with leaders as needed. We did the ‘Lokaan di sarkar’ campaign on December 31 which was a great success. These campaigns were launched on Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram. These platforms have more reach,” says Pandhi.

Emphasis was also placed on creating a network where messages from Congress reach the people who will actually vote. “Pushing content is one thing. But we also get views from them. We want people to participate in the campaign and so this feedback is important,” he says. The party’s digital team has also created a broadcast network that has about 10,000 people. “We have a mailing list that have signed up with us. There is a particular number that these people have registered and they receive our messages directly,” says Pandhi.

Much of the focus is on the government of Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi and the work he has undertaken since they came to power a few months ago. However, the campaigns also highlight some work done over the past five years. “We ran a ‘Hath Punjab da’ campaign and right now we’re doing one on Sonu Sood with the Congress. “111 Congress dobara” was also a successful campaign,” says Gaurav.

Each week, the digital team launches three to four social media campaigns, including a large one that has greater impact. “We release songs too. We got 15 lakh views on ‘Channi Karda Masle hal’ while the ‘70,000 kursi 700 gang’ campaign after Modi fiasco in Ferozepur also has a big draw. People have actually started using these phrases in their social media exchanges. When you fill out a campaign, the idea is to get into people’s minds,” he says.
Pandhi says ordinary people started using these slogans on Facebook and it showed the success of the campaign.

“Since the election is going digital, I don’t see any physical gatherings happening now. We need to reach as many people as possible digitally. It must start now. Our goal is for the live digital gatherings to be seen by as many people as possible. The EC guidelines are a boon as they will give political parties the experience to go digital. Large gatherings will eventually stop even after Covid, in my opinion. This is the way forward politically. Governance has also gone digital, so the political process that gets you into government must also go digital,” says Pandhi.

“It happened in the Bihar elections also after the first wave of Covid and suddenly everyone was exploring digital ways. Now we use that experience,” he adds.

On ways and means to make digital gatherings a success, Pandhi says it has to happen at different levels. “Our central leadership will be reaching out to the people of Punjab. The idea is to reach people on their live phones at the time. The same goes for the state leadership. how to get the local assembly constituency leaders to take care of it. We are working on how these leaders can individually reach out to voters. They will have to adapt to the changes,” he said.

The party has set up additional digital control rooms at the district level. These control rooms are used to present local messages and on average four to five people work there, all congressional workers.
“This is the first time the social media campaign has been managed by Congress and has not been outsourced. No agency is involved,” he says.

All-party social media teams are also going to great lengths to crush opponents, but predictably, the congressional digital media chief doesn’t want to talk about it. Plausible deniability is built into such campaigns to avoid a backlash if it occurs.

Commenting on one of the most recent successes of the Congress digital team in Punjab, the fallout from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Ferozepur security breach is high on Pandhi’s list. “During the Modi incident, immediately after it happened, we were already running the ‘Punjab virodhi Modi’ campaign. We aired excerpts from CM Channi’s press conference on the same day. We then analyzed the images of Modi on the flyover and started to spread information about the failures of the SPG. Then we took the opinion of the people in the streets on the incident. Our objective was that people do not show up for the rally and to save face, the BJP created this hungama. We created a lot of content that worked,” says Pandhi.

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