Social Media

Will social media be a game changer for India elections?

Indian candidates differ in social media strategies
Social media in India's election

Just who will secure the top spot in the world's largest ever election is set to keep investors transfixed over the next six weeks, but in the world of social media, one candidate is already winning hands down.

Narendra Modi, the leader of India's opposition party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the party recent polls have tipped to win, has a much more prominent role on social media than Rahul Gandhi, the leader of the incumbent Indian National Congress party (INC). New parties - such as the Aam Aadmi or Common Man Party - have also heavily used social media to promote themselves this year.

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"Social media has emerged as a platform which cannot be ignored," said Rajeev Malik, senior economist at CLSA Singapore.

"It is particularly important for a section of voters, whose relevance has increased, because of the combination of the sizeable increase in the number of young voters and the increased ownership of mobile/smart phones and computers," he added.

Modi has 3.68 million followers on Twitter to be exact; his party has generated over 68 million page views on Google Plus and has 12 million likes on Facebook. Meanwhile the INC's Gandhi, does not have a personal Twitter handle, although one set up by fans and followers has 74,800 followers. His Facebook page has 135,589 likes and his Google Plus account has attracted a 10,161 page views.

Other members of the INC party are more active, however. Shashi Tharoor, minister of state for human resource development for the INC party has 2.13 million followers on Twitter, for example.

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But according to Twitter analytics firm Topsy, Narendra Modi's name comes up 40 percent more often than Rahul Gandhi's on Twitter.

"They do have a fairly strong presence [the INC] on social media, but clearly the BJP is far ahead," said Rahul Bajoria, Indian economist at Barclays.

Bajoria added that while it's difficult to tell how effective social media would be in getting people out to vote, it's clearly an effective tool for amplifying a political message.

"For example if there is one person in a house that is on social media - they get the message and if they like it they then pass to on to other people as well who are not necessarily on social media," he said, also pointing out that India's media scene relies heavily on social media sites like Twitter.

BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi with all the BJP candidates from Delhi during an election campaign rally at Shashtri Park on March 26, 2014 in New Delhi, India.
Hindustan Times- | Getty Images

According to Shiv Putcha, associate director for mobility for IDC Asia-Pacific, the ruling INC party was late to the game on social media and vastly underestimated its importance.

"It may seem low in percentage terms, but in absolute numbers you have a few hundred million people in India very active on social media. And they tend to be younger, tech savvy job seekers and the exact type of audience that is perhaps very frustrated with the current policies," he added.

Wooing India's young population, where 65 percent of people are under 35, and 100 million 18 to 25 year olds could potentially vote for the first time, has been a vital part of this year's campaign, analysts told CNBC.

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"The question is: are they [young people] going to go out and vote? And we don't have a conclusive answer but it [social media] certainly can make a big difference," said Bajoria.

CLSA's Malik added that one disadvantage of the growing use of social media in politics was that rumors and misinformation can spread quickly, having a negative or unfair impact.

"India's social media landscape is vibrant but also raucous. The same set of people who could virally disseminate a message for you could also take you down just as quickly," added IDC's Putcha.

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India has the third largest internet user base in the world at 238 million users and more than 100 million of its people are active on Facebook and Twitter.

Social media is used heavily in U.S. election campaigns. President Barack Obama, for instance, has 42.4 million followers on Twitter.

— By CNBC's Katie Holliday: Follow her on Twitter @hollidaykatie