For many youngsters who don’t read newspapers, it might come as a surprise to them that not too long ago, you’d be hard-pressed to find newspaper photos of the huge crowds at opposition rallies. And some PAP rallies would be poorly attended (save the grassroots members), but you wouldn’t see that highlighted in mainstream media either.
That snippet from the past doesn’t really matter any more, because mainstream media may no longer be the main voice in shaping public opinion, especially among the new generation of voters. There are just so many sources of information that we can now simply access from our handphones – you don’t even need to sit at a PC these days.
Moreover, this upcoming 2011 elections is going to be very different from the ones in the past, thanks to social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
Opinions are now galvanized far faster, thanks to the real-time updating of our Facebook or Twitter walls. Where in the past, people relied on blog aggregators (remember www.tomorrow.sg?) to compile the latest blog postings (rather inefficiently), all that’s needed now is for people to keep rebroadcasting by hitting “Like” or “Retweet”. For many companies, they now have to ability to broadcast straight to their target audiences on top of going through their advertising or PR agencies.
And power to the political parties that are able to harness the new found capabilities of social media.
But hang on, the problem here is that the PAP appears to be ill-equipped, or perhaps inexperienced at using social media. No, I don’t consider politicians who happily add everyone on Facebook to be very online-savvy.
Mr Brown has pointed out some strange output from them on Twitter and Facebook over the past week.
Odd outreach on Twitter to promote their FB page, using Ms Tin Pei Ling (poorly) as a hook
SM Goh Chok Tong making a FB tongue-in-cheek joke on Ms Tin that few people grasped.
Of course, the rest of the online community was more than happy to share these snafus. There will always be a lot of scrutiny on the PAP, and their recent use of social media to date leaves much to be desired.
My personal experience with their social media team lasted just one day.
I added myself to the official PAP Facebook page and was stunned annoyed to be hit by 18 Facebook postings today. They ranged from the interesting (3 new candidates announced, but I didn’t bother to read) to the mundane (George Yeo had lunch with some bloggers) to the unnecessary (grassroots walkabout photos)
Halfway through the day, I posted a request on their FB page to reduce their frequency of posts, but they either didn’t see it or they didn’t care.
After the last three posts of the day, I promptly “unliked” the page and my News Wall was free from spam again.
Now like I’ve said many times, in general, I’m not angry with the PAP (I see their point on many issues that others raise outcries over) nor do I like the Opposition.
The question here is “What should a PAP Facebook page do to engage its audience?”
One great thing I learnt in the past few years is that any successful marketing (yes, a PAP FB page is considered marketing) is knowing your target audience first. And what kind of audiences do we have online today?
The Irate and the Upset: Consider that many the opinions being spread around are by angry writers who appear to have a big axe to grind with the Gahmen. Often, there is no reasoning with these people, no matter what you say, they have little good things to say about the Gahmen. You see these guys cropping up everywhere, especially on the comment threads. They often annoy me because they often don’t see the bigger picture before they go on their rants.
The Satirists : Mr Brown gets my respect, not only because he and his friends always come up with hilarious takes on current issues, but his observations are on the dot. In a country like ours where there isn’t really much one can do about the system, one way of subverting it is simply to have a good laugh about it.
The Intellectuals: These are the folks who probably comment or post the least, but think the most about what they see and read online.
The Apathetic: I probably belong to this group, though this posting kind of proves otherwise. I think I used to be cynical, but now I’m just resigned.
I’m not going to suggest which audience the PAP or other political parties should try to engage online, but it does have to realize that any of these audiences are probably more opinionated than the average joe that they meet during their weekend grassroot visits.
Law Minister Shanmugan was just quoted that people should not be distracted by “Internet chatter” and that they can decide what the real issues are.. Well times have changed – Internet chatter IS becoming public opinion. It’s no longer just coffeeshop talk limited to social circles that do not mix with each other.
The big problem is that when public opinion is shaped by ill-informed ideas or emotional outbursts, there’s no other alternative in reshaping it since mainstream media’s coverage/commentary will be late by a day or two. What scares me is the level of xenophobia or anti-establishment sentiments that I see on the FB postings of younger friends.
The bigger problem, which most people don’t seem to realize, is that most of the “Internet chatter” on Facebook is actually kept from public view. It’s simply not possible to search and do a statistical study of the comments that are being posted in thousands of private FB comment threads (unlike Twitter, where it appears most tweets are in the public domain). It is also not possible for PAP or any other institution to befriend everyone on FB. So even if trouble is brewing within the FB community, it won’t surface till it reaches critical mass.
What I am personally looking for online, is a robust intellectual debate among the political candidates and wannabes about the issues that concern people today.
Isn’t that what the elections process is all about? It’s not just about dangling carrots or using fear appeal (“Imagine what would happen if those other guys got voted in!”), but persuading people why you should vote for them using reason, logic and emotion.
Having televised debates on Channelnewsasia is a nice start, but like many other folks, I no longer watch free-to-air television. I did try watching one episode last night but it was in Mandarin and I got lost in translation.
The Internet is a great platform to engage people and fire up their imaginations, but so far, the ruling party seems ill-prepared to take advantage of the free tools available to them. To be fair, I haven’t seen anything interesting from the opposition that makes me want to “like” their pages either.
It’s easy for people to “like” your Facebook page, but one has to take a lot of effort and care in engaging the community which can leave anytime it wishes.