Monday, April 6, 2009

Why I think politicians can be successful social media marketers?

This is not a piece about Obama and his campaign that took him to the White House. That’s been captured very well here, here and here. This is also not about the initiative after Obama’s entry into White House. All of them are without a doubt awesome case-studies that I am sure will find its way into B-School curricula.

This is a random rambling of mine about how politicians, in general, can be great social media marketers. They could belong to the right, left or centre in their political orientation. I am aware that the left-leaning ones would prefer to be called “revolutionaries”. But then that is a topic for discussion over drinks.

Anyways, following are the reasons why I think what I think:

Politicians know how to create and sustain conversations

Experts keep pointing out that social media is all about conversations and that a sustained one can help build strong relationships.

Politicians can not only create conversations, they can raise it to the level of a raging debate – a groundswell if I am permitted to say so. They do this by taking a provocative stance or stoking the fires of controversy. They extract maximum personal mileage and thereby succeed in creating salience in people’s mind.

Take a look at any post that resulted in considerable debate (comments), you will know what I am saying.

Politicians are honest and transparent

This might be difficult to believe, but hear me out.

Social media, it is said, demands honesty and transparency as double-speak is easily spotted and denounced.

In the case of politicians ‘wysiwyg’ is fully operational. They are completely open (blatantly so) about their lack of scruples and love to keep everyone guessing about their intentions. This might seem hypocritical but it is their natural style. Probably, the fact that our expectations from politicians are low could be an important reason.

Denizens of the corporate world have no business pointing fingers at the politicians. Corporate actions and messages tend to bring about greater disbelief and at times comical relief than political promises.

Politicians thrive on chaos

Pundits constantly talk about the loss of control when one ventures into the messy social media space. They also mention that it is one of the reasons for marketers hesitating to venture here.

A politician welcomes chaos with open arms. It is the fuel that drives him closer to his ambition. Chaos is an opportunity for the politician to not only create a conversation, but a conflagration.

Politicians are fast to respond and extremely intuitive

Social media, unlike broadcast media, demands a quick response as one deals with the unknown. This means that one has to be extremely adaptive and intuitive. An average marketer is brought up on the staple diet of ‘linear thinking’ and therefore will find the going tough.

A politician is different. He cannot waste time (unless it is part of the strategy) as it will mean giving ground to his opponents. There is no loss of synapse time between his thinking and action – sometimes he acts first and thinks later. Some of the actions are so disruptive in nature that it can send a conventional marketer into epileptic seizures.

Politicians are undeterred by failures

There could be numerous failures along the way. Not everyone can be as lucky as this case when one ventures into the social media space. Come to think of it, this is also true of conventional media (approach) and I do not know why anyone is not making a hue and cry over it.

A politician is unfazed by failure as he views everything with a single criterion – was the noise level (buzz) high enough for him to stand out? The speed of a politician’s response mentioned in the previous point enables him to overcome a potential disaster and turn it into an advantage.

Politicians are able to command a loyal following

If the number of followers or fans is an important measure of success in social media, the politician is a winner hands down.

Even the lowest level politician, say a councilor, can attract and retain thousands of followers. The reason(s): all the above.

The more I got into the flow of writing this piece, the more I realize I have it all wrong.

This is beyond social media. The politician is, in fact, a great marketer. There are many more reasons one can think of than the ones mentioned above to prove this point.

In fact, B-Schools should invite politicians as guest faculty members. They will be able to inspire future marketers into becoming bold marketers. What say?

Note: There is no bias intended by using the masculine gender ‘he’ while referring to the politician. It was purely to facilitate the writing of this piece. If anything women in politics are as good at marketing (if not better) than their male counterparts.

(Image Courtesy: dmax3270)


  1. Very nice analogy subbu. It is all about understanding the human need to connect. As a human being the first thing we do well is connect with smell, beauty, knowledge, food, energy, people, etc.

    Most of the time people are followers, whether with the social media or political platform both help people to be the followers. In a way social media is better than political platform cuz it HELPS the community some times (The NY Air Crash, etc.).

    Political parties are cash rich and social media ideas starve for cash most of the time. Social media changes every 5 years (geocities, ICQ, AOL, Myspace, Twitter), but political parties talk about CHANGE every 4/5 years and thrive.

    In a way party supporters and politicians are like third party apps, they can connect with any party when and how they want. Political leaders try so hard to get their creative commons license by opening their mouth at the wrong time and wrong places.

    Call for the politicians in India to submit their social media entries...

  2. Muki, thanks for the visit. I think you have brilliantly put across the point about needing to connect and the fact that politicians and followers are like third party apps.

    I think companies like yours should use this impending elections to get politicians on the social media bandwagon. Trust me, they are much more innovative and cash-rich like you rightly put than any corporation.