Can Koo ride 2024 poll wave & become India’s new Twitter? How political parties see homegrown app

Can Koo ride 2024 poll wave & become India’s new Twitter? How political parties see homegrown app

Some don't care for it, others say it's a 'good backup for India'. According to CEO Aprameya Radhakrishna, parties can use it to reach wider audience in their native language.

Illustration: Prajna Ghosh | ThePrint

Illustration: Prajna Ghosh | ThePrint

New Delhi: “But why are you writing about Koo,” a Congress member handling social media remarked when asked to comment on the microblogging platform.

At the moment, apart from a few like BJP’s IT head Amit Malviya, the rest aren’t taking the app seriously. But with social media platforms emerging as a key tool of communication for political parties during elections, there could be an opportunity for Koo — which sees itself as an alternative to Twitter in India — to capitalise big in the run-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, much like Twitter did in 2014.

Prior to the 2014 elections, Twitter was little known in India. The scenario has changed drastically since then. 

A 2014 Twitter blog says, “in the 2009 elections, there was just a single active politician with 6,000 Twitter followers. This Lok Sabha election, Twitter became the medium of choice for people to engage in and consume political content. Take any metric…it happened on Twitter.”

Twitter then gained further influence when Prime Minister Narendra Modi continued to use it as his de facto platform to communicate with the public. Thereafter, other ministers and government departments increasingly began to use the US-based microblogging site to disseminate information and commentary.

Now, with 2024 general election season about to start, can Koo have its own Twitter moment?

As far as representation among politics is concerned, there are over 20 political parties and thousands of members from different parties on Koo,” the company’s co-founder and CEO Aprameya Radhakrishna told ThePrint. “With 90 per cent of Indians preferring to communicate in their native language rather than English, Koo may become a platform of choice for political parties to engage with a wider population base in a language of their choice.”

Also Read: Twitter bans one of Koo’s handles, co-founder questions Musk’s ‘free speech’ stand

Koo’s beginnings

Launched in 2020, Koo gained prominence in February 2021 when the Modi government and Twitter were in conflict over content issues. 

At that time, Koo was promoted by Minister Piyush Goyal and government agencies like the Niti Aayog. It seemed to be ‘Aatmanirbhar’ (self-reliant) Bharat’s answer to American Twitter that was disobeying the Indian government.

However, Twitter was still seeing more usage than Koo. According to April 2021 data from Delhi-based business intelligence provider KalaGato, Twitter had Indian users spending nearly 14 minutes per session on average and Koo just close to 7 minutes.

Since 2021, Koo has made some more headway. For example, it has managed to get Congress’ Uttar Pradesh, Bihar units; BJP’s Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh units, and AAP’s Karnataka, Jharkhand units to set up accounts.  

‘A good backup for India’

Political strategist Amitabh Tiwari told ThePrint that up-and-coming social media platforms do approach political parties and election strategists, asking them to try out their platform and use it to connect with the public.

“Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, ShareChat, and Koo all do it as part of business development, and policy advocacy,” he added.

However, Tiwari does see the 2024 general election as an event Koo can use to get new users and increase existing user activity.

“I consult political parties and leaders about communications,” he explained. “I would recommend using Koo too — simply because a party would have sufficient funds and personnel to maintain the accounts, they would get to reach a different audience [given Koo mostly targets non-English speakers] than the one on Twitter so there is no harm in being on Koo, only a benefit, if any.” 

He added that Koo is a good back-up for India to have if ever there is a case where Twitter or a platform originating in another country tries to suppress issues in India, or if India has to shut out a platform from another country for national security reasons.

BJP adopts, others shun

Among political leaders ThePrint contacted, it was mostly BJP members who were hopeful of Koo’s prospects.

Asked if BJP will use Koo in the 2024 campaign and whether it can become popular in India like Twitter, Amit Malviya said: “We will use every platform where we can connect with people and communicate. Koo is certainly one of them and will be an important platform for us going forward. We do not sit in judgement of the popularity of social media apps. Each one of them, with critical mass, is important and part of our plan.”

The fact that Koo is made-in-India and perceived as unbiased is another factor that will work in its favour, said BJP Delhi spokesperson Khemchand Sharma. 

“Koo is an indigenous platform so it is a priority for the government and all nationalists…It also has a fair and unbiased algorithm to predict trends and content, so this platform has a good future,” he added.

Congress social media head Supriya Shrinate did not respond to a WhatsApp message seeking comment. However, a source close to the Congress told ThePrint, “No one cares about Koo.”

An email sent to AAP’s social media email address received no response. AAP-supporting social media influencer Gaurav Rai meanwhile said he is not very aware about Koo.

Ankit Lal, a former AAP IT head and now a political strategist, doesn’t see Koo gaining prominence among political parties “if things go as they are right now”.

Lal gives three reasons: “One, the absence of neutral influencers and non-state actors on the platform. Two, the lack of original content. Even in the case of parties that are on the platform, the content is most of the time verbatim what is used on Twitter. And there is competition from other homegrown platforms like ShareChat.” 

He further said that while the general elections are a pan-India phenomenon and an opportunity for any company to grow, a product “needs to be properly rolled out and customers need to get acclimated before being launched at the scale of a national election”.

Explaining with an example, Lal said: “When Facebook launched the ‘Live’ feature, it was first used in the Uttar Pradesh and Punjab elections in 2017 and subsequent elections, before the various parties and leaders started to use it to the hilt in 2019 general elections.”

He further said that as of now, he doesn’t see any such disruptive product-level intervention being planned by Koo, something that will be needed if it is to grow exponentially.

But Koo has made some more headway since 2021. For example, it has managed to attract several parties and their leaders by giving them a yellow badge of ‘Eminence’ as verification.

Mamata, Yogi, YSR & Gehlot on Koo

The All India Trinamool Congress’s Koo account was started in August 2021 and has 124k followers. Its leader and Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s account was opened in November 2022 and has approximately 136k followers.

YSR Congress Party’s Koo account started in June 2021 and has approximately 51k followers. Its leader and Andhra Pradesh chief minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy’s account, started in June 2021, has around 187k followers.

The BJP, Congress and AAP don’t have any main Koo accounts. However, there are state-level accounts. For example, the BJP’s Gujarat unit’s account opened in February 2021 has around 177k followers, the Congress’ Bihar unit’s account, started in January this year, has approximately 223k followers and AAP’s Madhya Pradesh unit’s account, started in November 2021, has 33k followers.

The best-known leaders of these parties such as Modi, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal are not on Koo. Some of the popular leaders present on the platform are Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath with 6.3 million followers, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot with around 561k followers and AAP’s Raghav Chadha with approximately 61k followers.

(Edited by Geethalakshmi Ramanathan)

Also Read: Respect govt rules, be inclusive, go desi: Why Koo believes it can beat Twitter in India