Shinmin Bali
Mar 19, 2014

Live Issue: Can social media predict mandate for 2014?

One is that social junta may not represent aam junta, entirely; the other issue is that of PR, finds Shinmin Bali

Live Issue: Can social media predict mandate for 2014?

Social media measurement companies are working overtime. Irrespective of which political leader or party has the last laugh of the online day, there are systems computing away to find out who was the most talked about positively, negatively, and so on. During the day, of course, social media marketing companies and social arms of PR agencies are busy contributing to this chatter, for and against someone. It is critical as a medium today, as is evident from the Election Commission of India setting up guidelines for use of social media for purposes of campaigning by political parties. But is social media chatter representative of the entire Indian electorate’s mood? Can social media be the political crystal ball?

Rajeev Bhargava, director of social sciences and humanities research institute Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), believes it cannot. He explains, “There is absolutely no way that social media can predict election results. At the most, it can partly influence the same and even then it may only happen in the urban areas or such small pockets across the country. Social media simply does not have the tools and techniques required to predict election results.”

Anand Halve, Consultant, Chlorophyll, concurs. He adds, “The biggest reason why social media cannot predict election results is because the sample is not representative enough. Comments on social media can be a good measure for intensity of beliefs, but not a good measure of width of belief. And an election is something that is more about how widely certain beliefs are held.” Referring to the election numbers that are bounced back and forth before any election, he says, “Statistics are the pretence of intellectuality of people who don’t understand maths.”

Social media can be a relevant measure even if subject to conditions, reasons Anisha Motwani, director and chief marketing officer, Max Life Insurance. She reflects, “If managed properly by the political parties, the way corporates have started doing as part of their Operational Risk Management (ORM) process, they will be able to track negative as well as positive comments about the party and its leaders.”

Sudhir Nair, senior vice president and head - digital, Grey India, is also a little less sceptical of the social media’s capability in predicting the results. He observes, “Social media may not predict to precision but it is fairly indicative of how the wind is blowing. If you just deploy listening services and observe the last year in the Indian context; the changing sentiments are too drastic to be ignored by anyone.”

Ashok Lalla, global head - digital marketing, Infosys, rules out social media being able to predict the outcome. He says, “Even Nostradamus would not be able to predict the election results, so to expect social media to do so is being a little far-fetched. After all even Twitter predictions on success of new Bollywood releases are often found to be completely divergent to the reality at the box office.”

There are several who underline that social media influence is aggressively exerted to create a perception, about voter perceptions. In such a context, they question how one can use the social media chatter to predict who will be Prime Minister, among other things.




Rajeev Bhargava, director, CSDS

“At its very best social media can be used to mobilise a segment into action. Another reason why social media can’t predict election results is because unlike the US we here in India have a multi-party, multi-issue driven politics for which a straight-jacket method of measurement in the form of social media cannot be used.”




Anand Halve, consultant, Chlorophyll

“If we stack the total number of social media users in India against the figure of the total voting population, it is evident that social media cannot be reflective of the opinions of the entire population of voters and thereby predict the outcome.”




Anisha Motwani, director and CMO, Max Life Insurance

“Social Media is a very good customer listening tool. It can give very good insights about the way voters are going to behave at the time of voting. However, it is important to keep in mind that these insights will have an internet savvy, SEC A and B bias.”




Sudhir Nair, SVP, Grey India

“One also has to bear in mind, not all conversations are initiated by people or voters in general. Many of them are driven by the social media teams of political parties; however what’s interesting is to observe how and the extent of these content nuggets being shared. Look at the number of new eligible voters in this election. Wouldn’t social be a very important touch point that can predict?”




Ashok Lalla, global head - digital Marketing, Infosys

“What social media does is reflect the mood and trend among the constituency of Twitterville - the voters present on Twitter who share their views on candidates and discuss their alignment with specific political parties, ideologies or even specific candidates. Whether that translates into votes and determines the final winner is hard to say. One reason for this is that the voting population present on Twitter is but a microcosm of the total voting population, and also arm-chair tweeters often stay there – in the armchair and never make it to the voting booth!”


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