Five reasons Politicians fail at Social media

I wrote this post originally on LinkedIn.

I'm based in India, the battleground of one of the last few decades' most divisive national elections, and the first one where Social media is arguably playing a big part. Political parties have hired specialist agencies and established large volunteer teams for a wide range of roles: to support their agendas, malign opponents with both propaganda and lies, and to act as trolls and converts as the day turns.
While I try to be nonchalant about their shenanigans, it is near impossible to ignore their efforts from a marketer's perspective. And so far, I think most politicians, whether in India or other regions of the world, fail miserably on social media. Here's why:
  1. Can't be firm on policy: Depending on the way the wind is blowing on a given day, a politician needs to change tack immediately. With multiple stakeholders, and a diverse set of audiences to satisfy, they end up making promises to everyone. With conventional media and one way dialogue, they could take a misstep on a given day and course correct in due time, or simply, say they were misquoted. With social media, the audience hears from the proverbial horse's mouth, and they have to be firm- which simply isn't the way politics is played.
  2. Spend half their time dissing competition: When in doubt, blame the other party- with such rules of engagement, politicians don't have the wherewithal to sustain campaigns by the strength of their manifestos. They necessarily try to malign opponents, and try to convert fence sitters. On social media, name calling and other such activities are frowned upon by people engaging with you, even as your supporters rejoice in your pot shots. With conventional media, one could think of responses and reply with wit, derision or amity in due course. With social media's instant pressure, they can't mostly keep up.
  3. Too serious for their own good: Try to remember the last time you heard a politician bring their personality to the table, Obama's House of Cards tweet notwithstanding.Politicians, often to add respectability to their 'image', become split personalities, reserving interesting aspects of their personalities for family and close associates. One of India's Prime Ministerial candidates, Rahul Gandhi, has been constantly criticized for being dour and unforthcoming, despite being collegial with groups closer to him. This isn't just about him- Politicians from every country strip their personality of candour and become a wee bit 'stuffy', which isn't something that wins you admirers on social media, who later convert to votes, hopefully.
  4. Engage with social in the same way as traditional media: While comparing thesetwo forms would take another blog post, suffice it to say Politicians don't want to appear ill at ease. With social media, their response is to create the same support teams and structures. God help you if you are a politician and not naturally 'media savvy'. Next to your publicist, your social media team will have the toughest task.
  5. Fearful of social media: Above, I cited examples from countries where social media is mainstream enough to congregate voters, and thus politicians. Let's however, not forget a wide swathe of countries, from Turkey banning Twitter to Russia restricting social media usage at the Sochi Olympics. Totalitarian regimes realise the losing battle they fight if they participate on social media. This is perhaps the most important reasons for many politicians' failure on social- they just can't stand to scrutiny.
These reasons, and the examples I cite above, may be limited in their worldview, because, like you, there's only so much of Politics and heated debates I can take on various platforms before I watch the next cat video. I look forward to your thoughtful comments, and examples of social media successes you've seen emerging from Politics in your country.


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