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New government should manage digital, social communications effectively

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Given the new climate of political hope in Malaysia, it is crucial for politicians to pay serious attention to the power of the digital and social media, writes JD Loverenciear.

The impact, relevance and exponential bursts of digital and social media in contemporary society can be easily appreciated from the endless volumes of researched articles available on the internet.

Given the new climate of political redress and hope in Malaysia, it is crucial for politicians to pay serious attention to the power and effects of the digital and social media in the country.

First, the government must break away from its old mould of employing civil servants who have little appreciation of the depth, magnitude and versatility of the new age mediascape. The fact is, the younger (or emerging) generation is more adept with the numerous tools of communication engagement.

Second, the old ways of a lower budget for staff operating the communications units in ministries and agencies must stop. In today’s networked society, communication has a prominent place in the priority-setting of management and organisational structures. The old practice of keeping communications departments as ideal cold storage facilities for non-performing staff must stop.

Third, resorting to shortcuts like contracting foreign experts to manage communications needs is a misplaced remedy. In the social mediascape, the communications function is symbiotically looped with local cultural mindsets and behaviour patterns that are best understood and addressed by local experts familiar with the local context.

Fourth, every politician must quickly learn how to engage the services of communications experts to manage their 24-hour social media platforms. The increased accessibility to social media like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Telegram, YouTube and blogs needs well equipped communications centres and personnel who cannot be dispensed with nor managed by the leaders themselves.

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It demands committing larger budgets and the willingness to not only employ senior people but to also empower them to manage the communications that operates around the clock.

Hence, in consideration of the above four points, it will serve the PH government well to respond immediately to critical issues that pop relentlessly on digital and social media.

In this fast transforming mediascape – one that local politicians were slow to harness – the many claims and unestablished exposes by netizens, for example, cannot be left unattended to, as was the practice in the old days, when fax machines and fixed lines ruled the kingdom.

In this new age, it is the responsibility and duty of politicians and government machinery to address every urgent outburst, viral message and breaking news promptly. While politicians are quick to publicise their ‘personal’ social media contact details, their response to netizens trying to connect with them makes a joke of their intention.

In this regard too, the public, when trying to connect with government officials and politicians for a variety of planned events, for example, need to see marked improvements in these officials’ response and reachability. The old days of being ‘unreachable’ despite repeated tries does not augur well in this age of greater connectivity.

Likewise, anything that goes viral reflects the targeted individual or agency’s inability to plug a leak or expose in good time. Burying one’s head in the sand like an ostrich will boomerang, add to the woes of the implicated party and make repairs to reputation a tough and costly affair.

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In summary, the new government will eventually pay a heavy price if it does not invest in prioritising communications. Employing the right resources, technology and people will go a long way in maintaining a positive perception of the new government’s performance.

Any attempt to curtail freely accessible social communications space and its users will not be a smart option. Hence, the government should not even entertain thoughts of the Najib era, when the Fake News law was crafted and put in place.

Manage the phenomenal, new social communication sphere. Don’t run away from it or put a lid on it.

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