The fragmentization of the media means that it is no longer easy for citizens and authorities to talk to each other. The government needs to look at new channels and new voices to fix communication issues, argues Kevin Lau Chung-hang
U.S. PRESIDENTS’ “Address to the Nation” speeches often appear in documentaries. Lyndon Johnson’s speech on the Vietnamese War is a well-known one. While watching one of those addresses, an idea struck me. Over the past century, in general, governments could easily be found by the public. True that the number of communication platforms was rather limited back then and communication was by no means as convenient as it is today. But still, once you turned on TV or the radio, you would be able to catch important government announcements. The government was highly visible. Today, in this Internet age, the number of communication platforms has multiplied beyond count and it has become extremely easy for people to communicate. Yet, believe it or not, the weirdest thing has happened. While communication is at our fingertips, the government has somehow disappeared. It has lost its voice.
The best way to make sense of this farce seems to be the process of decentralization of the communication channels. The limited number of platforms in the old days appeared to be a disadvantage. However, it was a benefit in disguise as members of the public always knew where to turn to when they wanted to listen to the latest government news. Now that there are thousands of channels but then people find it difficult to locate the government. Strange it is, indeed.
Unless a government wants to remain invisible, something has to be done if it desires to maintain a decent rate of exposure in the eyes of the people it governs, or, serves, as we normally put it nowadays. A reengineering is needed.
USE POPULAR, NOT TRADITIONAL CHANNELS
First of all, don’t ever think about “re-centralizing” the communication platforms to go back to the “good old days”. The decentralization of communications is something done and dusted. All a government needs to do is to try to make itself as noticeable as possible in this new age of communications.
To achieve that, the government has to be far more creative in the way it communicates. The first thing to do is to smash the existing framework that dominates its mentality. All communication platforms are created equal and so there is no such a thing as some platforms being “nicer” than the others. It is totally out-of-date to think that some media are more proper to carry the government’s voice than those favored by the youth that are often seen as “too playful to be serious”. To achieve effective communication, the only figures the government needs to look at is the number of active users of each platform. Let the numbers do the talking.
ENLIST YOUNG PEOPLE TO HELP
Secondly, the way of doing publicity has to change too. Instead of spending huge amounts of money producing publicity materials in a studio, why not spend the same amount of money engaging Key Opinion Leaders to speak for you in the most popular platforms? Young people in their 20s and 30s are highly effective communicators so they certainly can function like journalists. Given the high effectiveness of communication, engaging the youth guarantees a far bigger coverage, not to mention the fact that it can be way less expensive working with young people than employing the studio and its staff.
Furthermore, the government must make its communications more direct. If the government chooses a platform that is not fancied by members of the public, the people can only learn about government news when the platforms they use repost what comes out of the government. That is too indirect to be considered effective. Instead, the government needs to “appear” regularly on the top 20 or 30 platforms in terms of active user volume in order for it to be seen. That makes the government “re-appear” to its people again.
KEEP THINGS FRESH AND NEWSY
Lastly, content matters too. The government should keep the content of its communication as fresh and attractive to viewers as possible. Upload the policy outline for the coming year or a long-term vision for the next two decades, for instance, can never be the best bait for readers. Keep the content fresh. Report things happening only in the coming two or three days. That way, viewers will find it worth their time to click into the government accounts.
Dr Kevin Lau Chung-hang is specialist in radiology, co-founder of the Hong Kong Coalition, and advisor of Our Hong Kong Foundation