The impact of Digital is a pervasive and well understood for the businesses. Though depending on whom you ask, there will be multiple versions of what Digital means to business users, it is safe to presume that businesses today aspire to become “Digiratis”, as shown by the Capgemini Consulting and the MIT Center for Digital Business global research.
But the power of Digital Transformation goes beyond businesses and consumers. While not fully understood, and definitely not very well documented, one area where Digital is making significant difference is in the area of “Involvement of Citizenry”. Technology today has the power of bringing citizens closer to the state and participate deeper and wider in the areas of their interest to influence outcomes which affect them.
This influence of Digital was most recently visible in the recently concluded Indian general elections. India is a federal democracy with significant regional variations on factors like climate, geography, prosperity levels and literacy, not to mention limited digital literacy. In this general elections, which were conducted in 9 phases in April and May, over 560 million of the eligible 811 million voters cast their vote in the largest such global exercise of adult suffrage. The long elections were due to the constraints mentioned above.
Indian general elections are the last conventional test case of the power of Digital. The traditional poll campaigns in India have been old style, door to door canvassing through the heat of the plains and plateaus. These are supplemented by massive mobilization of people for rallies addressed by key popular leaders. This election saw all this, but also included dollops of Digital outreach across a range of initiatives.
Designing the Poll Agenda
- The two largest political parties in India – Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) and Indian National Congress (INC), both asked citizens for their suggestions on poll manifestos.
- These parties created dedicated websites asking citizens what they thought were important issues and created forums for engagement up front in the campaign.
- The new political entrant Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) attempted to establish a grounds-up structure on poll agendas and even managed to write agendas specific to some constituencies.
- All major parties used online platforms to attract poll funds and member enrolment. The BJP and the AAP reported large ground swell of membership through these online connect programs.
Carrying and Disseminating the Political Messages
- The BJP came up with a never before idea of conducting rallies of its Prime Ministerial candidate Mr. Narendra Modi (now the Prime Minister of India) using a 3D Hologram technology. These rallies, addressed from the party offices, created the impression of Mr. Modi being close to the audience. Thousands of such meets were conducted.
- Both the BJP and the INC also made liberal use of Google Hangouts to let voters interact directly with the key leaders.
- The BJP also conducted topic specific hangouts – e.g. interactions with their Finance Cell leaders to talk about financial policies.
- To ensure that the relatively poor segments of the population don’t miss out on the political messages, many parties asked voters in rural areas to registered their phone numbers. The parties then called the voters back with recorded or even live tapes of the political speeches.
- All major parties invested time and effort in building a Facebook, Twitter and YouTube presence. Today, many Indian ministers, party pot holders and political activists are on Twitter and interact with their target audience directly.
- Social media became so prominent that parties routinely traded charges about tactics used to influence voters online.
Organizing the Campaigns
- Even as the 5 week long election schedule evolved, parties asked for feedback on their campaigns. The voters were urged to tell what they wanted to hear in rallies. This feedback was included in subsequent rallies and the suggestions addressed.
- Both the large parties had well organized IT cells, which monitored and shaped the Digital outreach continuously. For the first time in Indian political history, a large number of professionals volunteered with the political campaigns, taking sabbaticals from their jobs. Some of them even flew in from overseas to spend time in India. These are couple of interesting media stories about BJP: http://www.asianage.com/ideas/bjp-mission-272-draws-flood-volunteers-689 and AAP: http://india.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/12/03/nonresident-indians-play-major-role-in-aam-aadmi-partys-delhi-campaign/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0
- Indian elections were never very organized data-wise. The details of past results have been historically sketchy. Several third party websites were launched this election season to help voters make the right choices, prominent being – India Votes (www.indiavotes.com) with information on historical voting patterns, My Neta (www.myneta.info) with information on candidates and parties and PRS Legislative (www.prsindia.org) with information on past performance of legislators.
- Although there is no public acknowledgment of the same, apparently most parties invested heavily in voting patterns and analytics to predict best voter connect strategies and their effectiveness.
Acknowledging Global Leaders
- After the election was over and the results declared on May 16th, Mr. Narendra Modi, Prime Minister, thanked global leaders for their wishes via Twitter. This was unique to elections not just in India, but perhaps globally.
- The Twitter diplomacy efforts were recognized not just by the local media, but even by the global news feeds. Quartz, the digitally native news site, carried this story: http://qz.com/210883/narendra-modis-been-tweeting-at-every-country-but-the-us/
From voter selfies (or velfies as some enterprising marketers called them) to leader selfies, from Twitter fights to e-commerce, from voter analytics to first time online presence for several smaller regional parties, the underpinning technology changed Indian politics forever. And one assumes this change is for the better, resulting in increased transparency, responsibility and policy formulation process improvement.
Perhaps the best data point which described this digital election was that on May 16th, the day of vote counting, the official website of Election Commission of India got 450 million hits.
Technology has changed the way Indians looked at politics and elections and has increased the personal connect they feel with political parties and the policies. It is now up to these parties to leverage this change to shape their support base and make democracy more participative.
There are several hidden branding, marketing and consumer behavior lessons in this Digital Elections story for corporate entities.