PAP, get better at social media

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 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.

MP who refers to herself in the third person.

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.

PAP suggestion 2

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.

11 Replies to “PAP, get better at social media”

  1. Re: Mr Brown, there are 1,001 things we can have a laugh about. But don’t trivialise important socio-political issues by milking a laugh out of them.

  2. Hi Lucy, not speaking on behalf of Mr Brown or any other satirist in town…my personal take is that using a humorous approach is a middle ground in not being seen confrontational in giving feedback, as well as an opportunity for people to loosen up about things they often don’t have any control over. I don’t see these guys trivialising important issues, but really casting them in a different light and in memorable ways.

    Also, it’s quite hard for the authorities to demand that a humor-driven site be “gazetted” because it’s gone into a grey area of political satire (not commentary) and the potential backlash from the public is huge if political pressure is applied to such sites.

  3. fb and other social media is probably the last bastion where Singaporeans can express, or “rant” as you termed it on issues that bother them most. The PAP government in turn treat these as “noises”.

    Also GCT fb is a farce, more like a propoganda page, not unusual, typical PAP type behaviour, to try to make it look like he has the support, and is well liked? by DELETING unfavorable and negative postings wholesale? You can say anymore, how good they are with the social media.

  4. I recognise the need and space for political satire. However, how far have their satirical attempts succeeded in getting people to do something about the issues — beyond the laughs from his army of fans? It’s usually not constructive and there was a reason why they pulled the plug on his column.

  5. Hi Lucy,

    Perhaps you need to examine whether the purpose of satire is to motivate people into action or merely as a distorted reflection of reality for people to laugh/reflect/observe. Satire is not designed to be constructive, merely an outlet of expression and creativity.

    Why did they pull the plug on his column 5 years ago? I was a journo then and I remember this very well.

    They pulled it not because it was satire, not because it drove people into revolution or breaking store windows, but merely because it touched a raw nerve in the Govt (who has apparently left Mr Brown to continue his online columns due to the strong public backlash over this Today incident.). The Govt has since learnt to loosen up or risk more criticism, and that is a positive outcome in itself.

    This was the column:

    This was MICA’s reply:

  6. Hi Ian,

    Suggest you do a search on Google to find out what satire is and the role it plays in the community.

    I put it to you that Mr Brown’s “masterpieces” were simply attempts to milk laughs, not so much of satire.

    Regarding the “positive outcome”, you can do a careful analysis of the media’s reporting of the coming elections for the past weeks to see how much the “government” has apparently loosened up.



  7. Hi Lucy,

    Well, here’s what I found:

    sat·ire [sat-ahyuhr] –noun
    1. the use of irony, sarcasm, ridicule, or the like, in exposing, denouncing, or deriding vice, folly, etc.

    2. a literary composition, in verse or prose, in which human folly and vice are held up to scorn, derision, or ridicule.

    3. a literary genre comprising such compositions.

    Wikipedia does attribute “constructive” aspects, but for the life of me, I can’t remember when’s the last time a social satire actually caused social change. Perhaps you might have other examples to prove otherwise.

    Wikipedia: “Satire is primarily a literary genre or form, although in practice it can also be found in the graphic and performing arts. In satire, vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, and society itself, into improvement. Although satire is usually meant to be funny, its greater purpose is often constructive social criticism, using wit as a weapon.”

    Re positive outcome and loosening up – I worked in the local newspapers for ten years and have seen the way news coverage and government PR has evolved over the years. It’s still not perfect, will never be, but it’s better than you and many others believe it to be.

    Ultimately, you do have a choice not to read any newspaper, blog, or Govt release if you’re not happy with them or think they’re not useful to society. Compare this to 15 years ago when the local mainstream media was the sole source of information for the public. There are other sources of information, and there are avenues for change if you really think you want to activate them.

  8. The Straits Times, with their clever articles about the PAP chaps, has convinced me that the PAP MPs ,most of them, are just not interested to be in Parliament. We can see, clearly by their facial expressions ,how glad they are to leave the House. Would they be better off if they are in the opposition, ? I don,t know Even those who had left became evasive, ellusive and secretive.

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