Why Obama’s victory tweet got far more retweets than Modi’s

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“India has won.”

With this tweet, sent at the end of a day that marked an unprecedented electoral victory for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate, saluted his and his party’s victory.

About 12 hours after, the tweet had been favorited 37,546 times and retweeted 61,052 times, or about 20 times more than India’s likely next prime minister’s most-retweeted tweet of the whole electoral period, the ubiquitous “Modi selfie.”

That’s a striking result, but it fades in comparison to US president Barack Obama’s tweet after he won his second US presidential election in 2012.

According to The Guardian, that picture, with the slogan “Four more years,” was favorited over 70,000 times and retweeted over 400,000 times in the first few hours.

The tweet remained the most retweeted of all time until it was topped earlier this year by TV host Ellen DeGeneres’s Oscar group selfie, which was retweeted over 3 million times.

Sure, India is home to many fewer Twitter users than the US (33 million Indian users, according to the New York Times, versus 49 million active users in the US as of June 2013). And true, the US elections generated a lot more international interest than the Indian one.

But there may be another reason for the gap in the reaction to Obama’s top tweet and Modi’s: the picture.

Once, the formula for the “perfect tweet” was a straightforward piece of news by a reputable source featuring a brand name; but with the changes in Twitter and the ubiquitous presence of smartphone cameras, the perfect tweet must now include a picture—preferably one freighted with emotion, like Obama’s picture of him hugging his wife while grinning beatifically.

A photo would perhaps have added even more value to Modi’s tweet in India, where there are 22 officially recognized languages and another estimated 1,652 “mother tongues” (according to the census). With such linguistic diversity, it’s no coincidence that the most retweeted posts during the Indian election season featured pictures or visuals of some sort. A picture, in this case, would have been worth a thousand languages.