Narendra Modi’s tweets to celebrities – a lesson in conversation vs. broadcast

Do you know the difference between a Quote and a Reply, on Twitter? Most people don’t see the difference, but there IS a critical difference. Let me explain it with a simple, real-life scenario.

I’m having dinner with my family. My little daughter refuses to eat her greens and vegetables. I tell her to eat them because it is good for her. She continues to refuse. I then go to the balcony and shout out aloud to everyone in the apartment, “Listen folks, this daughter of mine refuses to eat her vegetables. Isn’t that terrible?”.

When I told her to eat, it was a reply. A conversation. The intended audience was one person, even though the other people in the table could listen to that conversation.

When I shouted out from my balcony, it was a Quote. The intended audience was the neighbours in my apartments PLUS my daughter. But, she was just one among the many intended audience. And because of that, she’s under no obligation to respond because she can treat it as a broadcast, and not a conversation, and ignore me.

Governments, usually, when they intend to get famous people to endorse a public service campaign, have a conversation with them and request them to either act in a PSA video, or ask them to write to their fans on their own. That conversation is between 2 parties – the Government, and the respective celebrity. The celebrity is a medium for the Government to reach a large number of people with the message.

But, when the Prime Minister of a country tweets to a series of celebrities (actors, politicians, media barons, sports stars, industrialists etc.), it is not a conversation between him and those people.

It is a broadcast, and is a LOT more about how he wants to be perceived by his audience (which also explains the extra thought that has gone into the tweets to Akshay Kumar, Bhumi Pednekar, Ayushmann Khurana, Salman Khan, Aamir Khan, Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, and Karan Johar), and much less about how he wants the intended participants to react. This is also magnified by the fact that the handle used to place this public request – it was done through Narendra Modi’s own Twitter handle, not the official handle belonging to the Prime Minister of India.

There is nothing wrong or right in this approach – it’s just a different way of doing things, in full public glare, where he is possibly more concerned about how his Twitter followers perceive his action. (You could, however, ask, “Can’t this request be made in private at all? Is that too much to ask for?”).

There is also a power dynamic involved here.

Narendra Modi is the Prime Minister of India; arguably THE most powerful person in India. His request to a celebrity in private (to request her/his fans to vote) is a conversation between two people, and that celebrity can decide whether she/he wants to indulge that request or not, and how she/he wants to do it, if so. If she/he doesn’t, only one party would know that a request was placed and it wasn’t complied with – the Prime Minister.

When the same request is placed in full public glare, by the most powerful man in India, that celebrity has a new conundrum – should they accede to the request or not (for whatever the reason, however benign or simple or obvious such a request is. It’s their choice, after all and it is a free country)? If they don’t want to (or want to do it on their own accord, whenever they want to – whatever be the reason), it’d be noted by 2 parties – one, the Prime Minister of the country, and two, millions of people across India.

To a large extent, all the celebrities who have been requested in full public glare, on Twitter, are under some kind of an obligation to respond – not necessarily accede to the request, but at least respond.

It’s like this – your company’s CEO writes an email to you asking you for something. You may respond to it or not – your choice. But imagine, if she writes you an email (your mail ID in the ‘To’) with the entire company’s email IDs in the ‘CC’, how are you supposed to react?

Think about it.

Alternatively, imagine Arvind Kejriwal, or Chandrababu Naidu, or Mamata Banerjee using the same tactic – of tweeting to assorted celebrities, industrialists, media barons, sportspersons and fellow politicians… asking them to tell their fans/followers to exercise their vote. What will you think about them? Clever? Clever and opportunistic? Any other epithets?

PS: Modi’s latest ploy was to turn a word his detractors were using to denounce him (Chowkidar Chor Hai), into a word in his favour (Main Bhi Chowkidar).

The idea reminded me of what Chevrolet did, with ‘technology and stuff’. Both ideas fall in the ‘turn the lemon your detractors throw at you into lemonade’ playbook. Clever! I had written about Chevrolet’s idea earlier this year, in a larger context. Here’s the relevant excerpt.

Read the full article, here.

But, the idea seemed to have been derailed by assorted players because of 2 specific reasons.

[1] The use of the hashtag. Hashtags are not owned by anybody, online. Someone can initiate it, but it takes its own route and flavor depending on the number of people who use it, and their own context for using it. Modi started the use of the hashtag in his favor, but soon people started finding creative ways to pull his leg using the same hashtag. And soon, the use of the hashtag got muddled, removed from the original intent.

[2] BJP’s IT cell added an absurd and poorly thought-through auto-response Phase 2 to the hashtag campaign. Every Twitter user who tweeted using the click-to-pledge option in Modi’s tweet got an auto response (from a pool of responses pre-created) as a motivational tool. Because it is auto-response, people started creatively and hilariously gaming it, thereby making a mockery of the original intent. Result?

Incidentally, all these responses cannot be seen on Modi’s Twitter timeline because they are (auto)generated using a third-party tool (‘messages 2019’ in this case). But, screenshots of these pulling-the-leg auto-responses are being shared widely.