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Decoding the Prime Minister's Facebook townhall address

October 11, 2015 17:55 IST

A study of the PM’s speech reveals 13% of all words he used were pointed keywords to market his cause

It’s been more than a year since Narendra Modi became India’s prime minister, riding on the wave of a massive public mandate. Though the public opinion on Modi as a leader has been divided between criticism and accolade, few people deny him credit for his powerful speeches and mass communication prowess.

Be it his frequent foreign trips, radio programmes, rallies, or his few Parliament speeches so far, Modi has swayed people through his impactful oratory — even some of his political opponents agree.

How does Modi connect with the audience with such ease every time he takes stage? While there might not be a formula, a study by TO THE NEW Digital, which analysed the keywords used by Modi in his speeches at Silicon Valley, reveals the politician’s propensity to pitch the right content in the right context.

The analysis takes examples from Modi’s speech during the Facebook townhall at its Menlo Park, California headquarters, during his recently concluded visit to the US.

Townhalls at tech companies of Silicon Valley are informal public events for all employees of an organisation. These are generally used as a platform by chief executives or presidents to announce large path-breaking decisions on product development or organisational strategy.

In Modi’s audience during his Silicon Valley speeches were CEOs of the biggest technology companies of the world — two of the most prominent ones traced their roots to India. And, Modi was speaking as the representative of a nation that, after growing at rates of about nine per cent for seven years, was languishing below five per cent rates since 2012.

In fact, Modi had been elected partly to rectify that, and his prime focus was to impress the fact that India’s economy was now much more open to and attractive for foreign investments (direct and institutional).

Against this backdrop, Modi took an approach that was closer in its nature to that of an advertiser or public relations expert. Here are a few important aspects of the Indian prime minister’s speech at the Facebook townhall:

Brand strategist at work

The study highlights Modi’s repeated use of words like “India”, “country” and “world”. “India” and “world” were used 22 and nine times, respectively, in an indication that Modi was out to sell the India story to the world. Establishing a brand? Check!

Impeccable market research

The next step was to know the exact vocational and occupational realm that his audience belonged to. Modi used words relevant to the information technology industry for a broader connect. “Technology”, “digital”, “internet”, “cyber”, “social”, “broadband”, “mobile”, “connected”, “data” and “information” became his keywords for this. “Technology” and “digital”, for example, were mentioned 16 and 10 times, respectively. Market-specific focus? Check!

The touch of an ad guru

Once the initial connect was in place, Modi went on to establish the particular segments/players that would further his cause. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Android, Skype, Cisco and WhatsApp became prominent catch words. Ten mentions of popular brand names in a single speech reflected the acumen of an advertising guru more than the head of a state. Efficient team building? Check!

Connecting with consumers

Modi knew which words would be music to the ears of his target audience. “Development”, “e-governance”, “m-governance”, “economy”, “skills”, “literacy”, “health care”, “youth”, “transparent”, “accountable”, “accessible”, and “participative”, all established a positive intent. Networking exercise? Check!

Image of a dynamic nation

Connecting with the audience by showing intent might not have been enough. The next step was to show that his country was moving towards its intent. So, “transform”, “change”, “scale”, “sustainable”, “expansion”, “enterprise”, “vision” and “efficient” were the words to build the image of a dynamic and hard-working nation eager to reform under an efficient political regime — these keywords were used 17 times. This also conveyed to Indian diaspora that the nation was finally moving forward, offering a hope for better prospects back home. Image management? Check!

Salesman of the year

Finally, once the intent and the drive had been established, Modi generously dished out an invitation to join the forward movement — “partnership”, “opportunities”, “enterprise” and “development” served the purpose well.

The idea was to project a mutual prosperity rather than Modi being a seeker of help. The impression that he gave was that Modi was in need, true, but so were the major money turners. He sought to impress upon them that they needed a market like India. Dynamicity met partnership, in a persuasion towards profit. Sale of dreams? Check!

In a nutshell

The research shows that the count of the main keywords in Modi’s insightful speech was 162, about nine per cent of the total word count of his speech (1,825). If helping verbs, connectors and fillers were left out — supposing their count in total to be 30 per cent (548) — the proportion in total would rise to about 13 per cent, implying an eighth of all words used in the speech became the pillars of Modi’s marketing strategy.

Debarghya Sanyal in New Delhi
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