Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Welcome to Twitter, Mr. Prime Minister

Let me start with a bluntly conclusive argument: Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai's entry into twitter is a welcome move. 

Now, I revisit an event of the past: few days ago, a twitter handle, @BaburamB came into light overnight. This was opened more than a year ago, had a reference to BRB's personal website, had some tweets identical with what he had posted in the website. So, it somehow looked credible. A tweet from the handle asked whether the Prime Minister should step down. In this depressing time of political stalemate, bickering and mudslinging, people in social media started interacting with this handle, expecting that it was genuine account of the Prime Minister Bhattarai. As the interaction went up, himalkhabar.com carried out a news story based on that. 

However, Prime Minister's personal aide Bishwadeep Pandey (@BishwadeepP) came to say that the account is not genuine and Bhattarai is neither in facebook nor in twitter. Not having a presence in social media for the Prime Minister Bhattarai who is (or was) thought to be the bridge between educated middle class and the Maoist party must have been the embarrassing moment. Eventually, we have him on twitter and his account is genuine now.

In this article, I would like to put my assessment of his initial two day's twitter handling:

On Username:
The choice of twitter handle @brb_laaldhwoj, is meaningful. This is a combination of his two names: Baburam Bhattarai abbreviated as brb carries a gimmick of always first image of him which was already being largely used in social media; and Laaldhwaj is his party name during yesteryears of the 'people's movement'. that he used during the one the always Probably when many people, especially his former comrades who have now formed CPN – Maoist have charged him of loosing the revolutionary spirit. Now, through this username, he wanted to maintain that the revolutionary Laaldhwoj is still alive within him. Other realization could be that his days as the Prime Minister of Nepal are numbered and hence wanted to have a username that he can use later too.

Technically, this is not a user-friendly handle. The sign underscore (_) makes it difficult to type in many smartphones and that the Laaldhwaj is also mediocre spelling. Most people tend to use different spellings i.e. Laldhoj or Laldhwaj, Laaldhwaj and therefore may be mistaken while trying to mention for him.

On behavior:
Prime Minister's Twitter handling startup is poor. In order to invite followers, the handle followed many influential twitter users on the first day and started unfollowing the other day. This disappointed many twitter users and some moody twitter users might have unfollowed him too – Tit for tat! The mess probably resulted from secretariat's haste to invite many followers. It is not like election campaign that you have to secure certain followers/fans in a day. It is a gradual process and increases in geometric speed.

Besides, you can't afford to be unidirectional in social media. You have to engage in interaction. That is what lacked in this case. There was much ado about his entry but he was making just a few (false?!) claims and didn't respond to anybody. It is understandable that he has other more pressing issues and deadlines but he can't afford to use social media just as a means to disseminate info. They've to engage in, at least, some level of interaction. Daily round up or at least a few responses are strongly required to keep the masses/followers loyal.

He maintains his fiery way of expression: attacking the opposition, blaming the history and salvaging oneself. That infuriates many followers who may not agree to his ideology but still may be his fan. One of his tweets clearly disappointed that mass, which sadly (for him) dominates the social media.

Social media tips for politicians/celebrities:
Based on the observation, I have jotted down a few suggestions for him or the other politicians or celebrities about how to use social media:
  • As a political leader, you can't afford not to be in social media. They are soon being inevitable even in political campaigns. But do not move into social media in haste. Lay out strategies, have a team of skilled volunteers/fans to handle social media accounts. Seriousness, sustained presence and technical know-how are required. If need be, man the team with skilled technical human resources. Have at least half an hour of dedicated time each day for social media round ups.
  • Social media impact is ephemeral. Therefore regular and sustained presence is required.
  • If you can't accept criticism, avoid social media.
  • Be selective on disseminating information. See the tweets into context. Only use milestones. Pictures invite more interaction.
  • In the bio, mention clearly who maintains the handle. If the executive or celebrity himself/herself occasionally tweets, find out a 2-3 letter signature.
  • Community in social media is highly critical and can hardly be misled. Speak explicitly/truthfully; defend wrong allegations; never criticize others harshly so as not to provoke them. If you are misrepresented, social media can be useful tool to defend oneself.
  • Social Media has great potential. But that depends largely upon three things: Internet penetration, hardware proliferation and usability of the softwares. Given the current pace of expansion in Nepal, I am very hopeful.
Oh! Baburam too is in Twitter! Let's not go there!
I want to wrap this article with a punch line: On the second day of BRB's twitter presence, I was interviewed by Ajaya Babu Siwakoti on Image News FM. He said BRB's entry into facebook few years back helped popularity of the social networking site in Nepal and asked if I expect the popularity of Twitter to increase following his entry on the micro-blogging site too. I said, four years back he was at the helm of popularity. Now it's the other way around and people rather may say, "Oh! Baburam too is in Twitter! Let's not go there!"

Also I am quoted on the Kathmandu Post article where I say BRB has fared poorly in social media.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this very interesting article. I think it is very well written. Your comments under 'behavior' was especially striking. I had the feeling that BRB's social media behavior is the epitome of his political behavior. :)