External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s tweets show that she has a marked preference for engaging with Twitter’s aam aadmi.
About 64 per cent of all her replies on the microblogging site are with users having less than 500 followers, with 32 per cent of replies going to those with 100 followers or less, The Hindu’s analysis of her tweets between May 2011 and June 2016 has revealed.
Ms Swaraj is also the most followed woman leader in the world, over 5 million followers, according to Twiplomacy Study 2016, the leading global study of world leaders.
A third of all her tweets were in response to other users.
The nature of her tweet replies range from her stand on policy issues such as FDI to the inane. Ms Swaraj also responds to casual tweets: from those seeking her blessings on their birthdays and before exams to those wishing her on Navratri.
A user once tweeted: “@SushmaSwarajbjp ma’am my mother was ur neighbour in ambala.. she tells me u used to win every debate in school,” to which she responded: “That's correct.”
>@tamilan50 Happy birthday brother. May God bless u.— Sushma Swaraj (@SushmaSwaraj) >July 31, 2011
Some Twitter users who requested for a meeting heard back from her almost immediately. In 2012, a user wrote: “@SushmaSwarajBJP Mam is there any chance to meet you? Please let me know. I love your speeches in Parliament”. She responded: “Please contact my office on telephone no.23794044. We will inform you the time.”
“Her use of social media is more interactive than most political leaders. Due to the careful use of direct tweets and replies, there is the image of the politician being sensitive to the voice of citizens and being able to use technology effectively,” said Dr. Joyojeet Pal, professor at the School of Information, University of Michigan.
Apart from casual chats, Ms. Swaraj has also responded to those requesting for help. In 2011, a user sought her help for his ailing father. In a series of tweets, Ms. Swaraj inquired about his phone number, sent a direct message with further details and consoled him by saying: “We will definitely do something.”
Her helpful interventions through Twitter have increased after becoming the External Affairs Minister. From fielding queries on passport and embassy issues to conveying emergency information in times of crisis on foreign soil, her tweets mostly relate to her Ministry.
In one such case, a user tweeted: “@SushmaSwaraj My mom is travelling to lubumbashi via nairobi nd stuck at nairobi airport due to embassy issue.Not able to connect her.” She responded, “I have asked Indian High Commissioner to Kenya to contact your mother in Nairobi.”
Data show that retweets of her responses have increased significantly since 2015. The jump, however, can also be linked to the introduction of the ‘Quote’ feature on Twitter, which gets the message more visibility.
The most retweeted reply was her response to bizarre request for help. A Twitter user wrote last month: “@irvpaswan @SushmaSwaraj Samsung REFRIGERATOR (RT28K3922RZ/HL), bearing serial # (03E04PAH201870M). @Samsung_IN is forcing me go for repair.”
“Brother I cannot help you in matters of a Refrigerator. I am very busy with human beings in distress,” the Minister replied, a tweet that won over the internet.
Apart from replies and quotes, her direct tweets started gaining popularity only after 2014. The median number of retweets of her tweets (excluding replies) increased from 12 in 2011 to 266 in 2015.
The analysis shows she tweeted the least in 2014. Dr. Pal said the “Modi effect” could be a possible explanation.
“In the election year, the BJP had a very unified discourse under Mr. Modi. So the social media flow at this point could have relatively reduced from Ms. Swaraj as the party had a single voice in Mr. Modi,” he said.
Data extracted from Twitter also show that Ms. Swaraj mostly uses the web browser for tweeting. Only 33 of the more than 3,000 tweets came from Blackberry, iPhone and iPad, the rest coming via the web browser.
Here are a few other interaction:
>@rajaramtripath1 Thanks. Same to your family.— Sushma Swaraj (@SushmaSwaraj) >October 21, 2012
>@kalpam22 It is not. And why it is not, I will tell you tomorrow.— Sushma Swaraj (@SushmaSwaraj) >December 3, 2012