Campaign India Team
Mar 14, 2014

FICCI Frames 2014: ‘We are one election away from social media becoming an influencer’

John Sopel, Roger Fisk, Chetan Krishnaswamy, Suparna Singh, Ronak Samantray and Mike Best debated on whether the internet is an interloper or catalyst

FICCI Frames 2014: ‘We are one election away from social media becoming an influencer’

John Sepel, senior anchorperson, BBC Global News, moderated a discussion on day two session at FICCI Frames 2014 on the role of the internet – on whether it is an interloper or catalyst.

Moving to mobile

The first speaker was Roger Fisk, PR expert, who worked on US President Barack Obama's campaign. He said, "My experience of social media and internet is that it amplifies human nature. It allows people to be transparent. What we found in the first campaign (Barack Obama's) was that it was very computer-related. We had created a webpage to create a profile and use our online presence to personalise things. The second campaign moved from desktop to mobile and we had to then create tools for that."

Chetan Krishnaswamy, head, public policy and government relations, Google India, underlined the need to understand the internet. He explained, "Since 2000, it has grown 600 per cent to a 2.5 billion industry and in India we have it as 250 million industry, By 2020 it should double to 500 million. By the end of the year we could surpass the USA as the number two (in terms of number of consumers of the internet). We have four million new consumers every month - most of them are from the mobile. The next 100 to 200 million users will be non-English speakers. The growth of language websites is 50 per cent compared to English language website growth of 11 per cent. What we shouldn't discount is the value it brings to India. 1.6 per cent of the GDP represents the internet economy. This could be 3.3 per cent in 2015." 

‘One election away from social media becoming an influencer’

Next up was Suparna Singh, director of strategy, NDTV, and managing director, She said, "Facebook and Twitter can become an influencer for elections in India, but we're still one election away from it. That's because I see very little exchange of chatter currently. There's buzz, but it's only one-sided and that's leading to frustration. Political parties are not willing to talk to news channels, but what we find reassuring is that all the the parties are trolling us equally, so I think that means we're being fair. Prime Ministerial candidates aren't talking to social media or news channels with less than a month to go. That should change."

‘Social media caffeine, not food’

"There's a lot of social media talk in my country. I find it as caffeine and not food. According to a lot of people, being right is more important than being good on social media. Social media doesn't change the person who is next to us but tells us more about him and what he really is. Hopefully in the longer run it will help progress of human nature," said Fisk.

He added, "It's fair to say in 2008 and 2011 we were up against candidates who only wanted one-sided discussions, while we were ready for opinion-related conversations. We built more relationships and that's what helped us.”

The panel was then asked if social media is currently at an ‘immature’ stage. Krishnaswamy responded, "Opinions will be there forever. I don't think five or ten years later the medium will also be perfect and that's why I don't think it's in an immature stage now."

Singh added, "I think we are on our way to evolve. I think in this election the tangible benefit is we've seen certain parties, specially newcomers, are using social media to raise funds. You now don't need a high marketing budget and release print ads to do that. That's a huge benefit of social media."

Privacy issues

Ronak Samantray, founder of, delved into the privacy aspect. He noted that there was real concern among consumers that their personal data will be misused.

Mike Best, Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Harvard University, added, "There's an issue definitely around privacy. Even if youngsters are going through the privacy policies, they aren't understanding the implications."

Sopel raised the privacy question to Google's Krishnaswamy, who said, "Yes, I do care about privacy. Google is taking enormous amount of care that user data is not compromised on. The information that is stored helps create value for the user. We're not looking at sending this data elsewhere."

Samantray surmised, "People need to understand that whatever goes on Facebook stays with the site, even if one deletes it. That's what marketers love it for. From a youngsters’ perspective, people aren't worried about it until it comes to finding a job. That's when they're worried about their party pictures going to the wrong hands."

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