When you are a political party hoping to attract a large following, Social Media is perhaps the best way to achieve this. After all, it’s so easy. All you have to do is equip a few willing youngsters with computers, a twitter account and basic knowledge of the English language and you’re all set to take over the Pakistani Social Media world by storm.
Or so you think.
What if you begin to attract all the wrong kinds of followers?
What if those followers are abusive, ignorant and downright stupid?
What if you’re valuable supporters begin threatening and abusing anyone and everyone who says anything remotely critical to your party?
What if a large majority of these followers have no idea “how” you will bring “change” when asked?
What if these loyal supporters lack the capacity for a logical argument?
What if people start to hate your party not so much because of who you are but because of how your supporters treat them?
What if your ratings with the actual voter bank begin to fall?
That is exactly what has happened to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI). If you ask any Pakistani on Twitter (those with no political loyalties) what the most annoying phenomenon on social networks is right now, an overwhelming majority will answer “Abusive and ignorant PTI supporters.”
With 129,976 (and growing) followers on Twitters, 193,624 likes on Facebook, PTI is perhaps the country’s largest political party in Social Media Land. Heck, they even have their own line of branded revolutionary T-Shirts.
Of course they still haven’t beaten Pervez Musharraf who towers over them with 435,513 likes on his Facebook page. But that’s another story for another time.
PTI is, undoubtedly, one of the best examples of a Pakistani political party dominating Social Media so completely. There has been no other party with such success when it comes to engaging people on SM platforms.
However, PTI is also an example of how NOT to do SM in Pakistan.
With so much power, comes great responsibility. PTI’s young supporters, its most important and powerful tool, are backfiring. I’ve witnessed threats and abuse from PTI trolls to people on my Twitter timeline; rude and disgusting comments on Facebook pages; personal and sexual attacks on YouTube; all this from PTI supporters who claim their “hero” is faultless and thus consider it almost blasphemous to criticize him.
Reasoning and logic have no place in the world of these blind supporters and most people just end up hating the party more than the ignorant supporters.
What went wrong?
So what exactly happened? How did this whole social thing get out of control?
Social Media is not just a few kids with a Twitter and Facebook account. Handled incorrectly and without a plan, Social Media can be your greatest enemy. You cannot jump into Social Media expecting that things will automatically streamline themselves and endow you with Lady Gaga-like powers. From the beginning of PTI’s SM campaign, there is no sign of any strategy or plan. First mistake.
Because there is no SM strategy, there is also no code of conduct for its campaigners and supporters. People are free to say what they like and to whom they like. Second mistake.
There has been no public reprimand from the party leader despite increasing concerns over PTI supporters’ behaviour. The leader is, in most cases, the person supporters follow through both verbal and non-verbal communication. When a leader uses rude language and takes cheap shots at opposing individuals, is it any surprise that the supporters will follow? Third mistake.
Perhaps, my friend Anthony Permal puts it best, “ Far from even having a knee-jerk reaction to any issues on SM, PTI instead defers to let trolls and supporters further exacerbate the situation, waiting for its demi-god IK to make a statement or make a decision.”
The fourth and last mistake was handing over the SM management over to biased and unqualified people. In the Pakistani context, the mind of an average politically motivated person cannot take criticism. Endowing such a person with the power to control your SM campaign is actually a dumb thing to do. Again, I’ll quote Anthony since I think he said it better,
“The person responsible or in charge of your SM campaign internally (PTI member) NEEDS to be a person who has considerable experience in consumer marketing and /or PR management. If you want to win this war, hire the most experienced soldiers, right?”
There is still time for PTI to mend what has been broken by poor decisions and unplanned campaigns. Otherwise, the party’s most powerful support might just become the reason for its downfall.
Disclaimer: This is in no way a political post. It is meant to be a short case study of wrong Social Media use in politics.