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UPDATE: Central govt publishes, notifies social media ad policy

The Union Minister for Environment, Forest & Climate Change, Information & Broadcasting and Heavy Industries and Public Enterprise, Shri Prakash Javadekar and the Union Minister for Law & Justice, Communications and Electronics & Information Technology, Shri Ravi Shankar Prasad briefing the media on Cabinet Decisions, in New Delhi on March 21, 2020.

The central government today published guidelines for buying ads on social media for government ministries and departments. “[The Bureau of Outreach and Communication] will determine which Social Media platform(s) is/are relevant in light of planned outreach activity of the client Ministry/Department based on target audience, theme and content of proposed activity, budget and duration of the campaign,” the document said. “In doing so, preference may be given to the Social Media Platforms which are based in India.” However, the policy does not make clear if by “based in India” it means social media companies that were founded and headquartered in India, or simply social media companies with offices in India.

The document, “Policy Guidelines for Empanelment of Social Media Platforms with Bureau of Outreach and Communication”, was published by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. The Bureau of Outreach and Communication is tasked with implementing all central government ministries’ advertising, including on the internet. We have reached out to the Ministry for clarification.

25 million ‘unique users’ to be the bar

The guidelines require that any social media company that wants ad spends to have 25 million unique monthly users. This is an interesting requirement, as daily active users (DAUs) are a much more accurate indicator of the likelihood of the potential reach of an advertisement. Last year, data by analytics firm App Annie indicated that Sharechat had 18 million monthly active users, while the company claimed then that it had 40 million monthly users. That distinction qualifies the company, which doesn’t reveal how many daily active users it has, to receive government ads based on this metric. (Sharechat now claims to have 60 million monthly active users.)

  • Social media companies banned in any state cannot sell ads: “Social Media Platforms seeking engagement with BOC for Government advertisements should not have been be suspended/blacklisted or be under the period of suspension by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeITY) or any other ministry/department or agency/autonomous bodies/PSUs of Government of India or any state governments/ UTs,” the policy says. This gives state governments more power on which social media networks receive government ad money, as blocking any service would put it on hold to receive government ads per this policy. “If during the period of agreement/contract, the Social Media platform fails to comply with the laws of the land, the agreement/contract shall stand revoked,” the policy adds.
  • Eligibility for social media companies: In addition to 25 million unique monthly users, social media companies will be required to have a dashboard to purchase ads with “demonstrated credibility”, and sign a contract with the BOC (an indicative copy of which is annexed in the policy). The BOC said it will bid for ads, and will try to get the best deal on those bids for participating ministries/government departments. “The Ministries/Departments would place 100% funds in advance with BOC for campaign to be run. This is non-negotiable as default in payment by one ministry/department may adversely impact Social Media campaigns of other Ministries/Departments of the Government,” the policy added.

Correction (May 26, 2020 10:45 am, May 28 2:35 pm): The previous version of article incorrectly stated that these are draft guidelines/policy. These guidelines have been implemented. The error is regretted.

Update (3:28 pm & 7:47 pm): The article was republished with a revised headline. A previous version misstated the number of Sharechat monthly users as 40 million — the number is 60 million. Originally published on May 13 at 3:28 pm.

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I cover the digital content ecosystem and telecom for MediaNama.

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