Social media users, India's new vote bank?

Social media usage in India is sufficiently widespread to have the power to influence the outcome of the next election, which might take place by May 2014 and consequently government formation, a study revealed. The Indian electorate has never been younger, Internet access is spreading fast with Facebook being the main reason people stay connected, said the study jointly conducted by Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and IRIS Knowledge Foundation.

Between 2004 and 2009, the voting population spiked to 720 million from 670 million and the number is expected to increase to 800 million by the time the country goes to polls, a greater number of voted than ever before will be 25 years and younger.

"By June 2013 the number of social media users will top 66 million and by the time elections to the 16th Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament) are held in mid 2014, the number would be even higher, possibly closer to 80 million if the trend holds," it said.

It is also likely that 25 million strong Indian non-resident Indian community who now have voting rights, could be a big influence as they are considered as active social media users. The report said social media usage is spreading fast in areas other than the top eight Indian metros such as Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad.

One third of the social media users as the study reveals, are residents of smaller towns with population of fewer than 500,000. Even more significant is the fact that a quarter of social media users are residents of towns with a population of less than 200,000.

"Facebook is the leading website accessed by all social media users, with as many as 97 per cent of them registering a presence on Facebook," it said. The study also finds that next to mail, social media usage is the biggest reason people connect to Internet.

Hence, about 160 constituencies out of the total of 543 constituencies, where Facebook users account for over 10 per cent of the voting population are likely to be influenced by social media during the next general elections.

"With Facebook emerging as the gorilla in the social media space, the clout that Facebook users enjoy is immense. The study has serious implications all of it positive for Indian democracy for the way it empowers the citizen." The study underscores the need for candidates to chalk out well though out social media strategy for the campaigns to be effective.

Philippines News agency