Rahul Gandhi has launched a series of YouTube videos, mainly taking on the Narendra Modi government over its handling of the standoff with China. If Gandhi wants, he can become an internet media powerhouse within a matter of hours. There seems to be only one thing standing in the way: himself.
He and his team have released over 309 videos on YouTube since he joined the platform on August 10, 2017. Despite having 3,18,000 subscribers, his first video, China Border Conflict, has received just over 73,000 views since it was posted on July 17. The latest video has about 27,000 views so far.
These aren’t impressive figures considering there are YouTube “” in our own country with nothing but a webcam who have gained over a million subscribers in a single week. More so if this is an attempt to launch RG, yet again. There is a view that this is also part of a strategy to escape real politics — the kind that requires you to get in the ring. Either way, it isn’t working.
What is he doing wrong? And what can he do?
1. Talk to me, look at me
Who is Gandhi talking to? Is he doing an interview? With whom? Why doesn’t he say hi? Why is he not looking at me? This is the strangest thing about the video for me personally. I find it hard to take anyone seriously who doesn’t make eye contact. Watch. He’s looking directly at you and that makes you pay attention. You take him seriously. Why can Gandhi not directly engage with his viewers by looking them in the eye.
2. Get out
OK, I know we are in the midst of a pandemic so it’s not advisable to do anything outside. However, if you are holed up in a nice bungalow in central Delhi with lots of outdoor space, why do you waste that opportunity? The current set of videos, shot and edited with dark backgrounds, amounts to reducing yourself to another couch analyst on the internet. The post-production and lighting setup has done a disservice to the videos, it makes it look too polished, distant and unrelatable. It reduces the authenticity quotient in both his message and himself.
Another striking point is that Team RG has totally failed to identify the magic of collaboration that allows even social media upstarts the possibility of instantly gaining a following across key platforms. He comes across as out of touch and unapproachable. There seems to be a coterie around Gandhi that makes it impossible for people to know who he really is. They are perpetuating the classical mistake where less information about him in the public domain makes it easy for his haters to spread WhatsApp misinformation.
I recently read an by Shivam Vij in the Print on how the SPG Act destroyed the Congress. Vij argues that the Gandhi family’s privileged cover has kept them complacent and out of touch with ground realities. It is as if this is what is happening with his social media as well. There are too many eager loyalist gatekeepers who are protecting and advising him. To his credit, he has had a few hits over the years. Some people who have met him in person swear by his smartness and decency. Yet, his image as a bumbling idiot persists.
One may ask, surely the man has some natural strength? Watch this of him interacting with college students in Chennai. He comes across as honest, direct and believable. Fun fact, this video has more views than his China Border Dispute video, and this is just one of the several videos of this interaction. What is clear, however, is that this has not been fully recognised by his coterie.
Can the real Rahul Gandhi come out if you let people ask him honest and direct questions? Is he an Italian national? Did he finish college? What does he do in Bangkok? Highly unlikely. On July 17, the Congress released a list of social media coordinators. One of them is the son of AK Antony. What value does he add? If he couldn’t do anything for AK Antony, what do you think he will do for Gandhi? Even in Kerala, the CPI(M) cyber team trolls them on a daily basis. Is he the person to run your social media team? This goes to the core of why the Congress sucks not just at social media but running the party generally. Inspire young people to join your party and take responsibility, not sons and daughters of people who have held onto privilege in the party for over half a century.
5. Funnel and scheduling
While channels such as Facebook and Instagram are no strangers to hosting video content, YouTube remains the undisputed king of video. Social media is a vast, interconnected network of platforms, offering a great opportunity to crosspost YouTube content on other platforms and leverage Gandhi’s one million followers on Instagram, 3.7 million on Facebook, and 15.2 million on Twitter to funnel traffic back to his YouTube channel. However, the team has failed to capture the power of this and leverage it. If the most recent videos are anything to go by, they have done a miserable job of it.
At a time when there are strong templates and tricks of the trade on how to integrate platform strategies and videos through the strategic deployment of video trailers, taking advantage of scheduling and indexing algorithms, there is still a shortfall on part of Gandhi’s team and nowhere near the smarts if this attempt is to match the Modi juggernaut.
6. Language and content
The content and language choices are poorly thought. Much of the content is in English and that audience hardly matters in India; Hindi content ensures that subscriber numbers climb rapidly. What about other languages you ask? Watch Gandhi managed this in one of his speeches. Why not build upon those successes.
And what about the choice of topics? Gandhi and the Congress party seem to make an attempt to take on the BJP on their turf such as issues of nationalism. Can the party not instead take up more pressing issues that, because of Covid-19, have become the centre of focus again. These are issues of unemployment, rural distress and farmers’ plight that need to be highlighted.
No exaggeration, this district is one of the most beautiful places in the world. Gandhi is the MP but he has hardly created content from here. We are yet to see him functioning as an MP, interacting with people, getting his hands dirty.
For Gandhi, there is no other way of getting Rahul Gandhi Media Inc off the ground. Traditional TV and news media are clearly against him and he has done little to improve on that. Added to this, his gatekeepers do more damage than help him. If this is an attempt to make a social media makeover to escape from real politics, there are serious questions that need to be addressed. Can Rahul Gandhi Media Inc be the most effective weapon? Can it operate like a professional company and take on Arnab and give his sasta duplicates a run for their money in viewership?
If he wants to build this as an alternative to fight the media environment, do it properly. Do something to encourage young people to rally around you. Don’t let sons and daughters of your coterie run it. It works against what you are trying to achieve.
Jacob Puthenparambil is the founder and CEO of Redhill, a global strategic communications agency headquartered in Singapore.
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