If I Were Managing @PMOIndia

Manmohan Singh

On 23rd January 2012, the Indian Internet community was abuzz with the news that the Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh, had set up an official Twitter account@PMOIndia.

Initially the move was welcomed. Most of us thought it’d be a great opportunity for the PM to connect with the people. We’ve all seen what Barack Obama and the White House are doing on Twitter, and we hoped that the good Doctor and his PR team would take a leaf out of their books.

Instead, what we got was a bunch of posts that looked like this:

A quick analysis tells you that:

1.The account is a bland mouthpiece for the PM.

2.There’s nothing on the account that you can’t get in traditional news coverage.

3. It’s a purely one-way street. There’s no conversation, no response to tweets or questions that might be coming in. Which goes against everything that Twitter is supposed to be.

Watching The West Wing has triggered a serious interest in me for political communication, and I’ve watched avidly how social media has changed the nature of the field. So here’s my (admittedly idealistic) pitch presentation on handling the official social media account of the Prime Minister of India.

The Insight

Ordinary people don’t know or understand the reasons behind decisions the government makes. All we get is the information that TV channels and newspapers put out. With scams and scandals at the centre of attention for the last couple of years, people have a very bleak and cynical perspective of the government. Evidence of this can be found in the consistently low voter turnout in urban areas. Belief in the government – and indeed Indian democracy – is at an all-time low.

The Strategy

Let’s make governance more accessible to the people through content that is transparent, relevant and understandable. And carry on conversations that will help the government listen to and engage with people at a deeper level.

The Execution

1] Deconstruct decision-making.

Even the simplest-sounding decision has some logic (we hope) behind it. Just announcing that you’re going to be amending the Factories Act to strengthen labour laws and ensure their compliance doesn’t mean much to anybody.

What I’d do is this: post the ‘in a nutshell’ decision in 140 characters. And then follow up with a link to a Slideshare presentation for those who want to know more about the decision.

The presentation itself needs to be written in a different language than Governmentalese. Make it simple. Advertising-style. Problem/Opportunity –> Idea –> Decision –> Execution –> Responsibility –> Measurability. Write it simply, make it visual rather than verbose. Think of it as an Executive Summary of an Executive Summary. After all, who has the time to go through insanely lengthy government reports?

2] Listen.

The nature of Twitter is such that things that make news swiftly show up in that little pane in the bottom left of your Twitter screen. First, it’s a great way for the PM to tell what his electorate is discussing, from defining who is poor to Kingfisher Airline’s woes. It’d make sense for the PM to comment (online, if not offline as well) on some of these topics.

And why does the PM have to wait for a conversation to begin? What’s stopping the PM’s social media team from getting a hashtag trending, like we do for our clients day after day. Use hashtags as a tool to spark a conversation, and get an insight into what India feels about an issue.

This would make governance far more democratic, because the PM would actually be listening to the voice of the people.

3] Have a point of view.

Twitter is an influencer medium. Sure, there are thousands of tweeple who just share stuff and yet have lots of followers. But it’s the ones who share with a stance that are the true influencers. As I write this, @PMOIndia has 49,811 followers. Shameful for the leader of the world’s largest democracy. I’m willing to bet that if the account changed its tonality from ‘broadcast’ to ‘influence’, they’d add plenty of new followers.

The thing is, I elect my MPs (and hence my PM) for the opinions they have. When they express their opinions in public, it’s a reminder of what their government stands for, which is something all of us need to be reminded of from time to time.

It goes without saying that people use Twitter to crib, curse and make fun of people. @PMOIndia is already the butt of many jokes – as seen in the conversation below.

But I believe it’s better to be roasted for expressing your opinion than just for being there. And we’ve seen how the twitterati can spring to a brand’s (or a person’s) defence when they think he or she is being criticised unfairly.

4] Have conversations.

I fundamentally believe that people like to talk to the brands they use or aspire to use. And they like it even more when those brands talk back. If Volkswagen were to have a conversation with me, I’d RT every post, and then talk about it offline as well. Apply the same thought here.

It’s impossible (and not a good idea, because of all the trolls out there) for @PMOIndia to converse with every single person who mentions them. Instead, pick one person a day to have a conversation with. He or she could be a loyalist or an opposer or simply neutral. But an intelligent conversation is an opportunity to reinforce or sway beliefs, and turn somebody into an influencer for you, both online and offline.

Social media is a governance tool, not a political one.

Use it as such. If you’re going to use Twitter to tell people how evil the Opposition is, or whom to vote for, it’s going to backfire. Rise above the politics. @PMOIndia seems to have got this bit right, and I’d carry on this approach.

The Metrics

What could the ROI for @PMOIndia be? On a qualitative, non-political basis, I’d measure the success of the account as follows:

  • Have I built loyalty among online Indians towards the PM? Loyalty in this case goes beyond the number of followers, and extends into overall sentiment and number and quality of positive mentions. Above all – have the tweeple of India shown their support of the PM online, maybe even outshouting the dissenters?
  • Has listening online helped the government validate, improve or change a decision? If yes, then how often?
  • The PM is the face of the government. How he or she is perceived affects how the government is perceived. Has there been a notable improvement in how people perceive the PM (online and offline) after he’s taken to Twitter?
  • Do people believe that the government is more accessible and more relevant to them?

I haven’t included election-related metrics because I don’t believe the @PMOIndia account should be used as a political tool. It is the account of the office of Prime Minster, not the person currently occupying the chair and the party he belongs to.

I’ll end with a disclaimer: this post is not intended to reflect my political beliefs. Dr. Singh could resign tomorrow, the Opposition could win the election, and I’d still make the same sort of recommendations to our next PM.

I’d love to know what your take on this is. Weigh in with a comment and let’s start talking.

Reposted from here

Featured Image: DonkeyHotey

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