Industry POV

Political campaign cost on social media likely to go up

27 Mar 2018

Political campaign cost on social media likely to go up

NEW DELHI: The controversy over Cambridge Analytica allegedly using Facebook users’ data to influence elections may lead to a rise incosts for Indian political parties seeking to leverage social media as part of campaigning as the platform prepares to tighten access toprevent misuse, experts said. 

A Agencies and digital media experts that have worked on political campaigns in previous elections said spending could go up because of investments needed in more sophisticated tools and strategies to target users effectively in state polls this year and general elections in 2019. Agencies are expecting an overall uptick in spending by up to 20% in next year’s national polls. An Assocham report had pegged the overall spending on digital platforms in the last general election at Rs 400-Rs 500 crore .. 

“Facebook will bring some more control. It is possible that they may introduce some India specific controls and filters keeping in mind the elections next year,” said Rahul Jain, founder of Social Rajneeti, which works on constituency based campaigns for candidates. This “can limit our abilities to tap users more sharply”. The exponential increase in Internet penetration through smartphones, 4G and broadband means that political parties will focus even more heavily on social media than they did in .. 2014, said experts such as Manveer Malhi, digital head at iGenero, who worked on campaigns in the last general election.

“Spends will most certainly go up as no other platform allows as much micro-targeting as Facebook. The data breach issue may lead tostricter audits in agencies as well,” Malhi said. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg pledged to overhaul security and audit apps as part of corrective steps. Developers’ data access will be restricted even further to prevent abuse, he said. Digital campaigns at the constituency level in India can range from Rs 5-15 lakh, said Jain. “Multilingual aids are not yet supported. They will come into play. We are expecting a minimum hike of 20% in digital spends next year.” BJP’s IT cell head Amit Malviya said it would be difficult to put an estimate on next year’s expenditure as it’s unclear how Facebook’s algorithms will be tweaked. 

“We don’t have an estimate on next year’s spends but it will be what is required,” Malviya said. “We will look at our risk rewards, compare it with several other options that we have. We don’t know what the Facebook algorithm will be like then, so it is difficult to put an estimate onnext year’s spends. What it seems right now is that Facebook wants to give more customised security features to individuals and drastically limit the data third-party apps would get.” The user data leak will lead to more stringent contracts between political parties and agencies, said Gautam Mehra, chief data officer at Dentsu Aegis Network. 

“I have worked on four government election campaigns in my previous roles, and there hasn’t been that much concern around data in the past,” he said. “Having such instances is in a way a good thing in India because they will start looking at other parameters besides just costper reach which is how you normally reach people around election campaigns.” 

Congress had hired Dentsu for handing its poll advertising account in the last general election. Mehra has previously worked on state elections in Rajasthan and Maharashtra as well. “Agencies will have to take that risk on behalf of parties,” he said. “We primarily look at a voter base of 18-24 on digital platforms to get them to come out and vote. There is no stronger alternative for this besides Facebook but the threat is very real. We hope they improve their own audit controls and other third apps play along.”

Gopa Kumar, executive vice-president at Isobar India, and Zafar Rais, CEO at MindShift Interactive, also agreed that spending is likely torise around 20% next year given the much wider reach of Facebook compared with competitors and increased internet penetration.