The panel was hosted by The Indian Express Group as part of the Social Media Week, being organised simultaneously in many cities across the world.
While Maharashtra Health Minister and Congress leader Suresh Shetty accepted that social media will play a role in all future elections, he said the biggest impact of social media in India would be in how it has allowed people to ask direct questions to their elected representatives.
BJP MP Poonam Mahajan said that while social media is a good platform to reach out, she had also gone to every galli-mohalla as part of the campaign. You have to ensure that the real and virtual connect in some way, she said. She added, however, that all BJP leaders have been asked to open social media accounts, and to use them effectively to engage with their voters.
On what the US can teach India, MSNBC journalist Richard Lui said the 2008 Obama campaign was more about saying we know how to use social media, while the next election showed which one of them could go out and swing an election. In India, May 2014 was a good indicator of a successful social media campaign, but the next elections will show who is able to go ahead and use this data to win an election, Lui added.
Gautam Chikermane, New Media head at Reliance Industries, countered Twitter India head Rishi Jaitley's description of the May 2014 election as a Twitter election. A lot of Twitter was loose conversations, some of which got picked up by traditional media who did their due diligence and raised it as an issue. To call this a Twitter election would be stretching it a bit, he said.
While there was consensus that politicians were changing in the social media age, Lui summarised that as politicians were adding muscle, so were their voters, thanks to social media platforms.
Anant Goenka, New Media head at The Indian Express Group, moderated the panel discussion.
Earlier in the day, Group M South Asia CEO C V L Srinivas highlighted the growing might of social media in India by elaborating how while the top English language newspaper in India had just 7.5 million readers every day, Facebook has over 11 million daily active users.
However, advertising professional, marketer and investor Mahesh Murthy put things in perspective by saying that a brand like Apple did not have a Facebook or Twitter presence, but was connecting with its target audience pretty well. You don't need a social media agency or social media strategy if you have a good product," he said, adding that paying for likes or social media growth was defeating the very purpose of these platforms.