Ahead of his visit to China — from May 14 to 16 —India’s social-media friendly Prime Minister Narendra Modi joined the Chinese social media platform Weibo to connect with Chinese citizens.
Sina Weibo is the largest Chinese micro-blogging site with over 140 million monthly active users, and China, with 1.29 billion subscribers, has more cellular phone users than any other country. India has 960 million subscribers.
With more than 12 million Twitter followers and 28 million Facebook page likes, Modi is the second most followed political leader on social media, after US President Barack Obama (58 million Twitter followers and 43 million Facebook page likes).
Political leaders globally are aware that power comes from attraction, and have been using it effectively through social media as a means of soft-power, a term coined in 1990 by Joseph Nye, an American political scientist.
Soft-power is defined as “getting others to want the outcomes that you want – co-opt people rather than coerce them”, according to Nye. In other words, it is an attractive power or the ability to attract that leads to acquiescence.
Public diplomacy through social media is an emerging modern day foreign policy tool, largely influenced and guided as means of projecting soft power.
Social media has come to the forefront as a means of political activism around the world in recent times.
Former Indonesian president Sushilo Bambang Yudhoyono follows Obama and Modi in the third position with more than 7 million Twitter followers.
Modi joined Instagram in November 2014, and within hours of posting his first picture, the account had nearly 38,000 followers. He gathered more than 443,000 followers in less than five months.
IndiaSpend has reported how Twitter influenced Indian politics, particularly the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, which saw a large social media influence on voting.