Agriculture ministry scouts for a social media manager

The ministry wants to engage 100 Twitter influencers in the information technology industry to amplify its work


People on social media mostly belong to economically better off sections and rural penetration of Internet is still low. Photo: HT
People on social media mostly belong to economically better off sections and rural penetration of Internet is still low. Photo: HT

New Delhi: Not to be left behind in the Narendra Modi-led government’s rush for an active presence on social media, the agriculture ministry is looking to hire an agency that will take over its existing channels on Twitter and Facebook and create buzz around the ministry’s work.

What’s more, the ministry wants the agency to run a “key influencer program” that will aim to engage top 100 influencers in the information technology (IT) industry to take the word forward. For this, the ministry doesn’t mind paying a Gul Panag or a Ranveer Singh, documents show.

Additionally, the agency will execute a social media monitoring programme across the key markets of India, the US, Middle East and European Union, according to the tender document floated by the ministry, bids for which close on 16 May. The agency will employ a dedicated team of six people; the strength could be increased or decreased according to the ministry’s requirement.

Further, the agency will provide amplification of digital marketing communication across paid and non-paid media avenues, the tender said. The agency will also “use a good industry standard monitoring tool for analysing comments/remarks about ministry of agriculture and farmers welfare across online media, including websites, forums, blogs, social media platforms, etc., national and international.”

The agency, while publishing content 24x7, “will generate awareness and buzz about Ministry’s activities and engage citizens over initiatives and probe them for participation and spreading it.” Also, it is expected to increase traffic to the ministry’s sites and applications to a “deep rural level”.

What the ministry is doing follows the global practice of hiring professionals to demystify its work for a larger audience, said Karthik Srinivasan, national lead, social, at Ogilvy India. “Also, it fits into the present government’s focus on taking the word directly to people instead of, say, organising a press conference and then depending on others.”

For citizens, social media has an advantage too: they can talk back to the ministry and ask questions, unlike print ads, Srinivasan said. “Whether they are responding to these questions is also important.”

What about paying “influencers” to carry forward the word?

An agency had this query for the ministry, listed on the website alongside the tender: “In case for a campaign, we are to engage with influencers of repute for eg: Gul Panag, Ranveer Singh etc. They would expect a monetary benefit for the same. How are such influencers to be paid? Will the ministry pay directly or via the agency? Is there a budget set or is it to be included in our proposal?”

The response: “Ministry will decide this as on required basis. Payments will be made on actual for approved proposals.”

A recent story in Mint showed how Twitter trends are being manufactured in India with help from paid influencers, raising ethical questions.

While it may be fine to pay Gul Panag to tweet about the new farm insurance scheme, should it be made clear if she got paid for it? Especially because platforms such as Twitter are also personal spaces, and the audience may not know what is paid for and what it did not pay for.

“Yes, there is a need to distinguish a paid post from an organic one and this could be simply done by adding a #AD to the post,” said Srinivasan.

The ministry’s move to give its social media presence a makeover comes at a time when it has received repeated flak on social media for its handling of the ongoing drought.

This week the Supreme Court came down heavily on the Centre and states, rapping them for adopting an “ostrich-like attitude” to the reality of drought.

“The government’s move is geared more towards changing the public perception than to solve real issues facing agriculture,” said Osama Manzar, founder-director of Digital Empowerment Foundation and a columnist with Mint. “Instead of using propaganda to change perceptions in urban India, the Centre should think of using social media to mobilise ideas and involve people.”

Manzar adds that people on social media mostly belong to economically better off sections and rural penetration of Internet is still low.

“A social media focus from the agriculture ministry in such a scenario means you are talking not to rural India but the rest of the country.”

Will the future be different? According to a report from the Internet and Mobile Association of India, Internet users in rural India increased by 77% to 108 million people in October 2015, compared to the year before. Still, only about 12% of rural India is connected to the Internet.

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