In my last posting, I mentioned that so many local politicians and political candidates lacked charisma, or a simple measure of “likeability”. Since then, a new Opposition candidate has burst onto the scene with oodles of charisma, simply by being herself.
Yes, 24-year-old Nicole Seah is the talk of the town this week, and I’m impressed (along with just about everyone who has seen her debut press conference) at how she’s hitting nearly all the right notes from the get-go. Not because she has a nice-looking profile picture, mind you, but she really carried herself well during that debut event.
You can see that video here:
(BTW, Razor TV, you really ought to stop using Flash video, you realize how many people are using mobile devices that don’t run Flash? And it’s not just Apple products!)
I’ve been observing her phenomenal growth in online popularity over the past two days.
Most Popular Candidate Online?
My friends have been busy sharing the above Nicole Seah video with their Twitter/FB networks frequently (along with very positive sentiments), and she’s probably gotten more visibility than all the new political candidates combined. A homebrew comparison video between Ms Seah and PAP’s Ms Tin Pei Ling (you know, the other young candidate in town) has already popped up.
Both ladies will be contesting in the Marine Parade constituency as part of a larger group of candidates.
My wife pointed out that Ms Seah is adding fans on her Facebook page at an amazing rate. It jumped from 9,000+ people to 14,000+ in just one day this weekend. You know, it took me several months to get our Xbox Facebook page to several thousand people!Ms Tin currently has about 2500 FB fans on her public profile page and it’s growing a lot more slowly.
At the same time, the mainstream media (or maybe it’s just The Straits Times, since I don’t really read the other papers or watch Channelnewsasia regularly) has been slow, or perhaps reluctant to give coverage to Ms. Seah.
What People Want To Read Vs….
Whether it’s government intervention to prevent the mainstream media coverage from skewing their coverage (why, surely people want to read what the ministers have to say about their policies and pre-election financial handouts!) or simply self-censorship, it’s just another disappointing aspect of our local media coverage of the elections. Until I’m proven wrong of course.
Mind you, while the rest of the population goes on with their own lives during this campaigning period, the media is actually in overdrive. Most of the journos in the newsroom are being mobilized, whether they like politics or not, to prepare for action during Nomination Day, Polling Day and all the rallies/walkabouts in between.
I remember we used to create big picture charts so that the non-political beat reporters could learn to recognize the various MPs and new candidates, so you know, you could tell Ah Kow from Ah Ngeow, and who’s that young retired army general anyway?
Yet all this tiring editorial work is pointless if editors don’t realize what people want to read about.To their credit, they do try to find out, but by the time they get a tipoff, get a journalist to do the story and get it published, it’s probably several days after people stopped talking about the topic. But there are things that I’d like to read….
For example, I don’t care to read another long boring full-page profile interview on a new candidate.
- I want to read what REAL people are thinking about the new candidates! How do people know the candidates are worth voting for when all they have to judge is their brief media appearances?
- Why has no newspaper commented or run stories on the odd way the former Chief Of Army speaks? (As an NSmen, it’s my national duty to keep harping on this issue)
- I want to know what young couples think of Mah Bow Tan’s defence of his HDB “asset enhancement” policy. Is public housing a market for asset play or affordable housing for citizens?
- I want to know why the singlehood columnists love to talk about their navel-gazing lifestyles and newfound boyfriends but don’t dare to talk about why they like one party’s candidates over the other.
Sure, I could read people’s opinion of candidates online, but why do I pay for the papers then? To read political quotes written by incompetent or jaded speechwriters? Seriously, have you listened or read any political speech these past few weeks that made you feel inspired about anything? There’s a business opportunity for talented speechwriters in Singapore and I’m sure journos would love to transcribe better prose.
With that mini rant over, my point here is that there’s now a very clear awareness plus measurement of
- What traditional media want people to read (which is perceived by many people to equate to what the Gahmen want people to know about)
- What people actually want to read, and that’s what they are actively sharing online.
What people want to read does not necessarily correlate to how the people vote, mind you, but I personally see Ms Seah’s appearance as a watershed moment in comparing media production and consumption in the local context.
Why Nicole Seah Is Doing It Right
Also, why are people “liking” and verbally supporting Ms Seah so much? Even though they don’t even know how capable she is?
To be realistic, the odds are completely stacked against her. (I can say so because I’m not in her voting district, so I can’t possibly vote for or against her.)
She joined the National Solidarity Party, which has never been much in the public radar. (Heck, I don’t even know any other NSP candidate besides her. I do know they have a cool slogan “Yes We Ken” on their polo shirts)
Her GRC group is up against Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong’s team, and any pragmatic Singaporean will tell you there’s little extra the NSP can offer versus his team. And she has little grassroots experience, which is what many people need to have as some form of evidence of future political capability (I don’t subscribe to such ideas though)
So to say that people like her because she’s an “underdog” kind of misses the point, as rooting for her is unlikely to result in the results that NSP desires. If I’m going to vote for an underdog, he or she better have an actual chance of winning despite the odds (eg. Rocky Balboa versus Ivan Drago). Sorry guys, I’m being a wet blanket here, but you know reality like I do.
What’s working for her (and not so much her party), is that Ms Seah is so far the only new candidate who’s really just being herself in public, and whether she knows it or not, that’s great execution in public relations. In my stint as a PR guy, I’ve always emphasized this to my colleagues – the best public relations you can do is just being completely natural in front of an audience.
It’s so simple to say, but so difficult for many people to do. Most people believe they need to put on some fake public persona, along with an affected way of speaking (refer back to former Chief of Army), hoping that people will give you the respect because you are speaking “like a leader”. What rubbish. Many companies, and I’m sure the Gahmen too, put their executives through media training which often teaches the wrong speaking skills.
Yes, you need to do your homework, your rehearsals, and learn how to make eye contact. But even more important is that when your public speaking opportunity begins, you are able to chuck aside all the technicalities and let your speech flow naturally with your own personal touch.
Talk to people, not talk at people lah.
What People Really Want To See
Ms Seah’s appearance and initial public performance has probably added a new headache to the PAP’s election strategy. Ms Tin has gotten mostly negative comments from the socialsphere (my term to replace the old “blogosphere”) and the choice to select her keeps backfiring on the Marine Parade team.
SM Goh recently commented in the Straits Times:
SENIOR Minister Goh Chok Tong urged voters in Marine Parade GRC to compare the People’s Action Party’s five-member team and the opposition’s National Solidarity Party, rather than focus on the two youngest woman candidates. The PAP’s Tin Pei Ling, 27, and NSP’s Miss Nicole Seah, 24, have been the targets of netizens since they were fielded for the coming elections. ‘I am the leader of Team Marine Parade. I have four other very strong members in team Marine Parade. Likewise, you should look at NSP as a team,’ said SM Goh during a walkabout of the constituency with his fellow GRC candidates on Saturday morning.
Look, you don’t need to tell us that. We’re intelligent voters, you know.
But the PAP started it by putting someone who was a political hot potato in the limelight, without truly understanding how the socialsphere would dissect her profile and agenda.
And Ms Tin’s backers need to realize that public opinion is like this – why focus on issues we cannot fully influence (eg. cost of goods, housing, monetary policy etc) when we can sit back and watch an entertaining showdown between two young female candidates? When was the last time we had such an opportunity?
Most people don’t care to read long rambling intellectual (or pseudo-intellectual) stories, they prefer to read about gossipy stuff. In a sea of super-successful, multitasking, policy-touting but really quite boring personalities, people are obviously starving for some entertaining characters. (You can also tell that my tabloid newspaper background is kicking in :D)
So far, Ms Seah seems to grasp how Facebook works, with simple updates and frequent, honest responses to comments. I already see groupie-style comments on her page. It’s really that simple – in an age where it’s no longer scalable to do walkabouts and hope to engage as many voters as your time and feet will allow, politicians and personalities need to realize the rallying or media pressure methods of the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and Noughties no longer work as effectively.
Today, the speed (some say shallowness) of social media allows likeable people to become even more liked at astounding speed. And for disliked people to drown in an ever increasing chorus of public rejection.
It’s possibly confounding to a senior politician that he can reach out to, or anger, hundreds of thousands of people online in a blink of an eye, but it’s happening and the natural response of many political creatures is to say “Let’s ignore the online chatter, it’s not important. Let’s continue what we’ve always been doing.”
And then leave the Facebooking to some amateur administrators who have never been trained in public communications.
But even if you win the final vote, the reputation that you build during this critical period becomes permanently embedded in people’s minds. Whether Ms Seah wins or not at the polls is not the issue. At this point, she’s already won the war of public opinion and this is something Ms Tin will have to grapple with for the rest of her political career.