Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Election Season-Should bloggers work for political parties?

Election season is here (In Tamil Nadu and few other states) and this time, social media influencers are in high demand along with all traditional channels of canvassing. Across party line there is awareness that social media is key to reach maximum voters and all parties are looking to rope in bloggers, twitter and facebook mavericks who have strong follower base.

Now, as a blogger or social media 'expert' should you get involved with political parties in their election campaigns? Why and why NOT? What are the pros and cons of this opportunity? Let us take a look.
Contextual poster, clicked by Senthil Kumar Rajappan
Arguments AGAINST getting involved with political parties (Why it is a bad idea do to sponsored posts or commercial engagement with political parties)

1. Risk of losing Freedom of Expression: When we work with corporate brands, the brands are usually open to constructive criticism. If I review a product and say "These are 7 good features while there are 3 more things that are not that good or has room for improvement" brands are usually fine with it. They usually supplement with what is the plan for addressing these concerns etc. I am under no obligation to say "This is the best thing in the world- all of you buy it right away"

But I seriously doubt such a freedom will be granted by political parties. They expect absolute loyalty and submission. Once you join on board, you may not have any freedom to write anything negative (such as part of manifest that is not good or a candidate having criminal background) or write anything positive about the rival party. Any such attempt if noticed by key people and taken seriously can have repercussions ranging from "Why have you written that? Your payments will be held till you remove it" to more dangerous reactions. Some poets in TN were arrested for writing poem against the CM. A party in Delhi expelled senior leaders for speaking against the CM. There is hardly any party which openly accepts criticism. Losing your freedom of expression will have immediate effect on your credibility. You should seriously assess this risk.

2. Polarize your readers and lose them
Most of us write on specific theme like travel, fashion, food, technology etc. Sudden surge of politically motivated posts will annoy your readers. Unless you are an expert in current affairs/politics, it is very unlikely that your readers will be soliciting advise from you as to which party they should vote. In all probability your readers are spread all around the world and most may not be from the constituency or the state where election is happening. If you align with one political party and start praising them left and right, you will annoy your reader base and might lose them permanently. This is something no blogger wants, irrespective of short term cash on offer.

3. Politics is a double edge sword.
There is no single political party which is corruption free, has great civilian interests in mind etc. You will be either siding with a known corrupt party or will end up with someone lesser of the multiple evils. Siding with one party will instantly win you wrath of other party. Instead of losing your credibility and reputation by siding with politicians, it might be better to stay neutral.

4. There is a difference between promoting a brand vs promoting a political party.
Promoting a brand is much less an evil. While it spreads awareness among your readers, readers are also well informed and they will do their due diligence before making purchase decisions. Even if they don't and purchase turns bad, the impact is less- affects just a few customers and a few thousand rupees. Others will stop buying that brand and brand will have to correct its ways to stay in business. But when it comes to elections, there is a much larger social responsibility. The outcome can affect crores of people, an entire state or nation for next five years. So one should be very very careful about the implications of what they are doing. Siding with wrong party and helping them win might cost a lot more than few thousand you managed to pocket during the campaign. So one should be careful.

Arguments IN FAVOR of working with politicians:
1. Money: Election season is the time when different kinds of people- from chopper rental companies to tent chair and mic set guy to goondas who are good at amassing large no of crowd for rallies all make money. Against all ethics many voters and community leaders take money from candidates promising votes, as they feel this is the only way they can get something back from politicians who keep looting the public for rest of the time. Despite all limitations set by Election Commission,  If making money is your primary objective and you don't care about all the side effects listed above, then election time could be just another opportunity to make some cash.

2. Someone has to win- Even if you stay neutral, election will happen and someone will win. It might be better to side with lesser of the evils and try to ensure that least corrupt of the folks win. When all candidates other have done 10 robbery and 5 murders each, unfortunately candidate who has done 2 robbery and one murder is the least evil and has to be elected as best choice. Amidst the sea of bad politicians there will be a few good Samaritans. If you know someone personally who is not likely to go corrupt or is known to be a good worker by all means go ahead and support him/her.

3. Power: You might get opportunity to get close with the politicians and might enjoy greater influence/power if the party you supported comes to power. Of course this is not ethical and one fine day you will get exposed if you misuse your access. But unless you are a super influential person, in most cases you will be forgotten after the election day.

Some precautions to take
If you are approached by a political party or its agency for election related campaign and if you decide to take it up, following precautions might help.

* Deal with only right/knowledgeable people: The people who are dealing with you on behalf of the brand- do they have fair understanding of what they are asking? Do they know basics of how blog, twitter, FB etc work? If not then there will be huge gap in expectations and will result in conflicts and disappointments later.
* Keep it 3rd person- There is lots of difference between saying "Mr ABC said he is the best CM candidate" vs writing "Mr ABC is the best CM Candidate". You should largely work as an enabler or source of information that helps voters take a right decision, instead of trying to act like party spokesperson (whose job is to justify everything his party does and criticize everything opposition does)
* Focus on short term campaigns/specific posts: Outside of the specific post or specific commitments, you should not have any liabilities. This will ensure that you are not repeatedly hounded by the PR for changes/additional deliverable etc and you can retain most of your freedom of expression.
* Take your readers into confidence-Inform them directly or indirectly that they should be expecting some political posts soon, your personal stand on the matter etc.
* Try to make it more personal and exclusive: Instead of publishing PR supplied content, try to make it personal and exclusive by trying to do candidate interviews (with tough questions), highlighting area problems, analyzing party manifesto etc This way your contents can add some value and stand unique.

Couple of months ago, I was sort of tricked into attending a bloggers meet where we were supposed to ideate on what can be done to improve Chennai's facilities, but the meet ended up with PMK boss talking all evening why he is best suited to be next CM of TN. [Read the post here]. While he seemed to have lots of good ideas and intentions, he also had the other side where he preferred reservations for his caste etc. After the experience, as of now I have opted not to be part of any political campaigns. Let me see how it goes.

Below is a poorly planned blogger pitch doing rounds currently on social media. I wish the agency learns more about blogger outreach and corrects its ways asap.
A blogger engagement pitch going rounds currently on social media (sourced from FB)
What is your take? Would you blog for a politician if money is offered? Will you be happy to get associated with a particular political party? What are the pros and cons? Can bloggers work on election campaigns without compromising their integrity and readership?

Similar posts: Banner Mania * My ideas on election reforms * Why we shouldn't allow a candidate to contest from 2 places * Sandad Ratna awards 2013


Tomichan Matheikal said...

A good blogger, like any serious writer, has social obligations. He can't be a mere propagandist. So advertising a political party merely for money is not a good idea. But a writer also has political stands. He/she can express them clearly and fearlessly.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Thanks Tomichan for your viewpoint

Rajiv said...

I don't think ANY serious blogger writting on a particular niche, whatever be it would even consider doing such campaigns.

And man, that pitch reeks of arrogance & at the same time, is hilarious! :p

Shrinidhi Hande said...

@Rajiv- it is by an agency not very familiar with blogger outreach

Kalpanaa M said...

The trouble with a lot of writing about politics is that it's just there to further someone's agenda. It's PR stuff without a personal touch. As bloggers we have the freedom to add the personal touch that reporters don't have. We're also thinking people who have opinions. Why not voice them.
I wouldn't do it for money though. Interesting post.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Thanks Kalpanaa for sharing your perspective...