In November 2014, as elections in Delhi seemed imminent, the social media wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) decided to launch an assault.
It took to Twitter and began to taunt Arvind Kejriwal—the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) chief ministerial candidate—for his attire, particularly the iconic muffler, and his resignation earlier in the year as Delhi’s chief minister after only 49 days in office.
Meanwhile, in Kaushambi, a suburban city on the outskirts of Delhi, 16 AAP volunteers who ran the party’s social media campaign sat huddled together in a small room, trying to figure out a counterattack.
Over a period of five days, they eventually realised that the BJP’s campaign could work in their favour.
“I was completely against it. But we decided we could use #Mufflerman positively,” Ankit Lal, head of the AAP’s social media wing told Quartz.
For two months, the party’s social media team and volunteers across the country, rallied around a new hashtag—#MufflermanReturns—and managed to create a new, positive campaign around Kejriwal’s ungainly muffler.
Eventually, Kejriwal emerged as the most influential of Delhi’s chief ministerial candidate on Twitter. In January, Kejriwal had 1.04 million mentions of his Twitter handle, far ahead of the 560,000 mentions for the BJP’s Kiran Bedi and 56,000 for the Congress’ Ajay Makan.
“The reason why we won this social media battle is largely due to the BJP,” Lal said. “They kept attacking us throughout this campaign. All we had to do was defend ourselves and counter their questions and people understood that.”
On Feb. 10, as the national capital counted its votes, the AAP completely decimated prime minister Narendra Modi’s BJP and won 67 out of the 70 seats in the Delhi assembly.
And that couldn’t have happened without the AAP’s deft social media management.
Since the AAP’s formal launch in November 2012, a motley crew of volunteers has run its online campaign.
The social media volunteers initially only worked as an extension of the party’s media team. Their primary role was to engage with supporters (and detractors) and answer questions about the AAP’s policy ideas. And as Kejriwal and the AAP grew in stature, and the 2014 general elections closed in, it attempted to build momentum around hashtags such as #ArvindAtWharton and #IndiaOnSale to enforce the party’s brand on Twitter.
That continued through the AAP’s dismal performance at the 2014 hustings and up until last August, when the party decided to better synchronise its media and social media teams. So, both the teams began holding conference calls in the morning to set the agenda for the day.
“The social media team gave their insights and the media wing gave theirs,” explained Lal. “We would then take a call on the topics to be raised and used on social media.”
For instance, when the party—and particularly Kejriwal—decided to apologise to the Delhi voters for quitting abruptly after 49 days in government, the social media team had to work double time to defend the move.
Now, as the AAP prepares to take control of the national capital’s government for the second time in its short history, its small but effective social media team is slowly being disbanded. Thirteen of the 16 volunteers who spent much of the last few months camped in Kaushambi will leave.
“They have to get back to work,” said Lal, “Three of us will remain here and they will keep contributing.”