PM Narendra Modi is the most-followed world leader on Instagram, where he shares glimpses of the man behind the public office.
New Delhi: Before leaving for a visit to Gujarat and Maharashtra on 17 January, Prime Minister Narendra Modi put up an Instagram story of peacocks at his official residence, 7 Lok Kalyan Marg. “Will see these friends at 7 LKM (Lok Kalyan Marg) after three days”, he wrote in the accompanying message.
A week later, on 23 January, another Instagram story had the Prime Minister thanking freedom fighter Subhas Chandra Bose’s family for gifting him a cap “Netaji himself wore!” The PM was truly “#Humbled”.
The evening before, his verified Instagram account, @narendramodi, shared his interview with Humans of Bombay, a social media initiative inspired by a US-based campaign, Humans of New York, that celebrates the triumphs of common people.
In the interview, PM Modi sought to tell “my young friends” that they “are special”. “You don’t have to look outside for the light, it’s already within you,” he added.
In yet another Instagram post during a bout of rain in the capital this week, as Delhi residents celebrated the fall in AQI readings, PM Modi was enjoying the “Fabulous Weather in (geotagged) Delhi”.
Instagram stories from the PM’s handle on 21 January placed Modi in the “Lush green lawns” and corridors of “7, LKM” on a “Rainy Winter Day”.
Instagram stories, a popular feature that allows users to post photos or short videos which disappear after 24 hours, has emerged as the latest weapon in PM Modi’s social-outreach arsenal, one exclusively meant to help him establish a connect with the young.
‘Going beyond the regular image’
Modi, who had been active on Twitter and Facebook since before the 2014 Lok Sabha election campaign, joined Instagram towards the end of that year, after he became Prime Minister.
Sources in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said the idea behind using Instagram actively was to “go beyond the regular image of the PM and things he shares on Twitter and Facebook to give him a more human face and enhance people-connect”.
There is a clear attempt to make it distinct from other platforms, the sources added, and “bring out the lesser known aspects of the PM”, with a clear focus on youth outreach, especially millennials.
To this end, Instagram stories is being “exploited actively”. While there is no empirical evidence to suggest the feature helps with greater youth-connect or facilitates more interaction, it is being used often since it shows up on top of users’ accounts.
Behind the scenes
While Instagram stories from the Prime Minister’s official handle, @narendramodi, may seem spontaneous, behind the scenes of these behind-the-scenes moments is a high-profile social media team, which carefully curates every post.
The PM’s Instagram account is managed by Hiren Joshi, who serves as officer on special duty (communications & information technology) in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), and his team.
The team, sources said, is careful to “not overwhelm the timeline” and, hence, limits the number of posts. In four years, there have been only around 200 posts.
Shirin Rai Gupta, a digital marketing executive, told ThePrint that it was a testament to the team’s skills that the posts seem natural.
“The fact that someone is able to even question whether Narendra Modi’s Instagram has a social media team means that they’re doing their job really well,” she added.
Explaining the potential of Instagram stories to strike a chord with followers, Gupta pointed out that the absence of an option to post public comments was a major attraction.
“Because Instagram is still growing in India, it allows people in general, not only politicians, to test their content — both in terms of how it resonates with the youth, and how controversial it may be — before they put it out on Facebook or Twitter, where the troll community is very active,” she added.
According to sources in the BJP, the party feels the PM’s Instagram outing has been a “success story” as his 16.7-million-strong following (as of Thursday evening) is said to be the largest for any world leader on the platform.
Modi, the sources said, has “the most likes for a political leader globally on Instagram” and, in terms of engagement, is “way ahead of even US President Donald Trump”.
A global trend
According to a ‘Twiplomacy’ study by public relations and communications firm BCW Global, as of December 2018, Modi was the most followed world leader on Instagram with 1.54 crore followers. Indonesian President Joko Widodo (then at 1.4 crore) came second, with his US counterpart Donald Trump (1.09 crore) rounding up the top three.
In the days since, Widodo and Trump’s follower counts have risen too, to 1.59 crore and 1.16 crore, respectively, but remain behind Modi’s.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi, often projected as Modi’s primary rival, has 5,12,000 followers on his official Instagram page, with his first post dated 10 March 2014.
According to the Twiplomacy study, Instagram has become the fastest growing media platform among world leaders, governments and foreign ministers after Twitter and Facebook, with 81 per cent of the 193 UN member states active on the platform.
Barring Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, all G20 leaders, as well as all leaders of the G7 nations (US, Canada, Japan, Germany, France, Italy and the UK), have personal Instagram accounts.
According to data collected by BCW Global from 426 accounts belonging to world leaders, governments and foreign ministers, a total of 98,372 posts had been published in the 12 months preceding 1 October 2018.
More than a third of the accounts, the study said, used Instagram stories to interact with their audience in unique ways.
The Twiplomacy study explained how Instagram stories had become a secondary channel for digital diplomacy and “Instaplomacy”, where world leaders increasingly interact with each other virtually.
“To see what world leaders are doing at international conferences and summits, it is useful to follow their Instagram accounts to glean valuable behind-the-scenes insights into the halls of power,” the study added.
Echoing Gupta’s take on the matter, the Twiplomacy study noted that Instagram stories were especially effective because they protected leaders from troll comments.
“There are no public statistics on the engagement of Instagram stories, but their format makes them relatively safe for politicians to use since no one can publicly comment on the posts, shielding them from the widespread negativity present on other social networks,” it stated.
Far from the toxicity often encountered on other social networks, Instagram, an almost completely built-for-mobile picture-sharing platform, is bringing world leaders closer to the millennial generation — one story at a time.
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