As campaigning for the Lok Sabha battle hots up, political parties are making all out efforts to woo voters in the online space —— from blogs by senior leaders, spoofs on famous faces to hangouts with decision makers or celebrity endorsements.
But will the battle being fought on myriad social networking sites and other online platforms translate into votes? Do your 'likes' and 'shares' ensure that you would vote for a particular party?
Experts feel that although political campaigning on social media stands to benefit the parties in influencing their potential vote bank, its range and reach is restricted to a small audience.
"Social media is a legitimate tool of persuasion. It helps build a personal rapport, may be, more effective than door-to- door campaigning. In the information age, political parties today need to flex 'electronic muscle' along with money and might," says Professor Deepak Kumar, chairperson of Centre for Media Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
He says though middle class urban voters may be influenced by online political campaigning, a sizeable number of people will cast their votes based on local issues.
"These online campaigns cannot reach the people in the rural belt of the country owing to the digital divide," Kumar pointed out.
A study conducted by media think-tank, Centre for Media Studies (CMS), on the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, speaks of the strong influence of social networking sites on young voters.
"Though young voters are moving to new media to get information about candidates, they do not consider it to be the only source. The social media marketers are still struggling to gauge whether 'likes and shares' are actually translating into action, i.e. votes," says PN Vasanti, director of CMS.
She picked a few examples of intelligent media use which she said she came across during the course of the survey.
"Aam Aadmi Party scored well with the social media. Armed with a group of techies, the party collected maximum donations via this media. AAP leader Yogendra Yadav recently announced that anyone can fix an appointment online with him," Vasanti says.
A number of students who consider interaction on social networking sites to be an integral part of their daily routine, said they will not be influenced by online political advertising and cast their votes based on "ground realities".
"Political advertisements on social media might engage and entertain me, but that is not the critical factor that will make me vote for them.
"The beauty of new media lies in the fact that we also get the counter argument to what we are saying at one place," says K Mallikarjuna Gupta, a student of Conflict Analysis and Peace Building at Jamia Millia Islamia.
"A good ad campaign prompts me to know more about the party or the candidate. For me, if the advertisement is engaging and holds my attention, they (the party) mean business and know what to do. It might also influence my vote," says Vineet Ramakrishnan, a sports writer.
"I engage in a lot of discussions with my peers on social media. We basically discuss politics but I won't endorse a cause or show my allegiance to any party until I am sure about it; no matter how many likes or shares a post boats of. For me, a good campaign is a perfect mix of print, online, outdoor and electronic media," says Janu Narayan, a media professional.
Vasanti sums up by saying that social media has almost become an unavoidable tool, but its credibility is still to be tested.
"Social media cannot be ignored. It has to be encouraged.
The virtual platform is still not used as a credible pedestal by our political parties for taking a stand on or for clarifying issues. It is mainly used to quell controversies, listen to complaints and to level charges against each other," she said.
Like or unlike, share or tweet, upload or download —— the political battle on social media only seems to be getting fiercer.