I recently watched some documentaries of the 1960s and 1970s that inspired me on the issue of communication between a government and its citizens. In the past, the communication channels were limited.
If people wanted to receive some real-time government information, such as the “president’s speech” or the “prime minister’s announcement”, the only way was through electronic media such as radios or TV channels.
However in this digital and internet era, the communication platforms have increased drastically, yet the level of communication between the governments and the public is low. Isn’t it weird?
This issue has been around for some time and has become acute during the COVID-19 pandemic. In these critical moments, whether the government can make quick decisions and convey the relevant messages to the citizens quickly often plays a key role in saving lives.
In my opinion, it’s time for governments to thoroughly review the effectiveness of their communication with the public. Here are four possible solutions.
First of all, in this era that social media dominates, everyone has experienced “decentralization” of communication rather than centralization of the past. Nowadays, there are thousands of influential online communication platforms that surpass the traditional mass media.
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If a government does not “show up” on these new platforms, it becomes invisible. Hence it’s time for any government to review if the current platforms it is using are still effective.
Second, governments need to be more creative in the way of communicating with the public. They need to think outside the box and accept more “nonmainstream” channels. To achieve effective communication, they need to know the number and composition of the active users of the platforms they intend to use.
Governments need to be more creative in the way of communicating with the public. They need to think outside the box and accept more “nonmainstream” channels. To achieve effective communication, they need to know the number and composition of the active users of the platforms they intend to use
Take Instagram and TikTok as examples — they are not just for young people but other age groups. Their wide audience coverage makes them handy communication platforms. Instead of spending a lot of money on less efficient media channels, governments should make good use of these handy communication platforms that have a large number of active users. They offer greater coverage but require lower cost per reach.
Third, the communication between a government and its citizens should be direct. If the government chooses a communication platform that is rarely used by the public, then the general public can receive the government information only when the platforms they use are willing to repost it.
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This indirect communication is less efficient, of course. The government should “appear” regularly on at least 20 to 30 of the most influential platforms.
Finally, the government should also consider the “newsiness” of the content that it tries to communicate to citizens through online platforms. The government should not upload a policy address for the coming fiscal year or long-term plans for the next 20 years but focus on things that will happen within two to four days, which the readers think are worthy of their attention.
The author, a radiologist, is a co-founder of the Hong Kong Coalition and a council member of the Chinese Young Entrepreneurs Association.