Social Media, Not by Remote Control
PMOIndia twitter handle goof up shows cannot do social media by Remote Control
 
A social media presence, especially on twitter, is considered essential for political success these days. It started with Barak Obama making history in America and has only been strengthened by Narendra Modi’s roaring success. Unsurprisingly, the Congress Party simply does not get it. The prime minister’s office (PMO) did the fashionable thing by hiring a broadcast journalist, Pankaj Pachauri, as a ‘communications advisor’, who promptly set up a twitter account @PMOIndia, a facebook page and a YouTube account.
 
Now, a prime minister (PM), who does not tweet or communicate personally, must ensure that his account remains formal and maintains the decorum expected from the head of state. But the PM’s communication advisor quickly proceeded to operate the twitter account like it was a personal one. 
 
He used it to plug new entrants to social media, planning commission hangouts and other conferences. Social media is abuzz with tweets that he also used the direct messaging (DM) facility to send private messages to friendly media, while blocking hostile ones. When the Congress Party crashed out of power, came the embarrassing realisation that the account will have to be handed over to someone who was seen as a public enemy. Worse, passing on the account and password with 1.4 million followers, would entail access to all messages including DMs. 
 
An unorthodox solution was found by abandoning the @PMOIndia twitter handle and renaming it as @PMOIndiaArchive to store the records under the provisions of the Right to Information Act. This has triggered a twitter-war with the BJP social media cell claiming it was a ‘national digital asset’ that should have been formally handed over to the new prime minister. 
 
As luck would have it, a 19-year-old, called Qaiser Ali, discovered that the @PMOIndia handle was suddenly available and secured it for himself. Half an hour later, Twitter India apparently reclaimed the account and reverted Qaisar to his old handle without explanation. The BJP claims that Twitter India acted at its instance to take charge of the account. 
 
While gaffes are natural while using a new medium, the acrimony could have been avoided if the outgoing government had chosen to act with grace and civility. However, the bigger lesson here, for politicians, corporate leaders or even television anchors, is that social media works only if you want to engage with people personally. 
 
It is perhaps telling that Rahul or Sonia Gandhi and the core team that handled their election campaign have no social media presence. They clearly don’t believe in listening or interacting. Almost all other politicians, of any significance, are now on twitter or facebook; most use it as a broadcast tool which is handled by a ‘social media team’. They pretend to communicate but are unlikely to be listening to feedback or interacting with people. Fortunately, the medium is such that it exposes fake sociability very quickly.  
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