Thailand ranks in the top ten of social media use worldwide, ranking eighth in the world in terms of Facebook usage. This isn’t a surprise; just consider the number of Thai netizens who are permanently glued to their smartphones on the skytrain and subway. It follows logically, then, that social media would be fertile ground for politicians to build their popularity and earn votes. Indeed. prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s recent entry into the social media scene has created quite a splash.
Out of curiosity, I’ve decided to analyze the social media handles of three key politicians: Prayut, Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva. How do they use social media? Are their social media strategies effective? Let’s take a look.
The prime minister is the latest of Thailand’s politicians to join social media, as part of a broader attempt to connect to the public. Although this isn’t strictly social media, Prayut’s digital push has come with a brand new website, prayut-chan-ocha.com , which although isn’t strictly social media per se is worth analyzing.
This website itself represents a more sophisticated attempt at personal branding that seems rather unprecedented from those within Thailand’s military circles. Firstly, there is the logo that uses an informal font for ‘Prayut Chan-o-cha’ and a ribbon of sorts using the colors of the Thai flag, marked in a symbol that approximates a check. This is a smart logo for Prayut – it modernizes his image in a way that is extremely different to the typical perception of him as an old-fashioned military conservative, emphasizes his constant patriotic message of loving the nation, and also indicates that his government gets things done. Also noted on the website is the three principles that is attached to the 20 year national strategy, but which has now evolved into his own personal slogan – munkong, mungkung, yungyuen (security, prosperity, sustainability).
What is even more impressive is that this branding consistency has carried itself into the social media realm as well. Take a look at his cover picture and Instagram posts, which contain the same logo and slogan.
Prayut has adopted a relatively personal tone on his social media accounts with informal language. In one way, it fits with the straight-talking general that Thais have known for five years, but his posts are also uncharacteristically nice and sweet. One post on October 20th, for example, simply said: “Good morning to my beloved brothers and sisters. I hope everyone has a happy day with their family on this Sunday!” (It’s hard to imagine that this is the same person as the prime minister who constantly yells at the press and threatens to throw podiums at them).
More important, however, is the clear intention in using this personal touch to establish a sense that Prayut is dedicated to his work. He was photographed twice wearing a white t-shirt during his European tour doing things such as reading messages from the public, with captions such as “If things go well, I’ll tell you about it at night. I miss Thailand!” The account has also shown off its funny side, taking pictures of the press with the caption “Time for me to take some photos of you” (and a winking emoji to boot). The prime minister has even shown off his digital prowess by consistently using hashtags such as ‘#ตู่ดิจิทัล’ (#TuDigital).
Of course, Prayut’s communications team has already committed some avoidable mistakes, such as photographing a dog that was ostensibly waiting for the prime minister’s return from Europe, but was also clearly tied up. Overall, however, Prayut’s social media and website have represented a very clear departure from the generally impersonal, old-fashioned and clumsy public relations attempts of Thailand’s military and junta. Whether or not this will earn Prayut any votes in an election is unclear- all his social media accounts receive a torrent of abuse from detractors- but it does demonstrate that his communications team is much more savvy than anyone would have previously thought. It will be interesting to see how his young social media accounts continue to evolve.
The relatively youthful Thanathorn Juangroongrueangkit, as the leader of the Future Forward Party and emerging icon of Thailand’s progressives, would be expected to have a well-run social media platform. To an extent, he does, but it’s also surprising how many things he gets wrong.
Consider, for example, his bio on Twitter. It’s in English. Why? His account primarily tweets in Thai, and the English bio shows very clumsy use of the language. It’s highly unlikely that he really wants to be known for “political intrigue”, as he mentions, because of the word’s negative connotations in English. Some of his graphics are simply badly written; consider the second image below, where the strange outline of his hair just reveals an unprofessional Photoshop job. Other images reveal strange stylistic choices, such as the third graphic where Thanathorn is colored orange, which could easily be interpreted to emphasize an ‘otherness’ from the people he is interacting with, buttressing his status as part of the billionaire elite.
The Future Forward Party’s Twitter account itself is run even worse. Take, for example, this Tweet:
“I just added a video to a playlist on YouTube”. Really? That’s plain lazy.
This does not mean, of course, that Future Forward and Thanathorn are butchering their social media. Thanathorn’s graphics, in general, are eye-catching and well done; he is also driving his message of democratic governance and promoting his ‘#ไทย2เท่า’ (Thailand’s Two Equalities’) vision across somewhat effectively. But overall, I find it strange for a party whose leadership and membership are young to not do English language checks, plan graphics more thoroughly and actually write out proper posts. Perhaps this is a game of low expectations. Prayut’s social media seems fine because no one expected him to do a decent job at it, while Thanathorn should be doing better simply by virtue of his party’s youthfulness. It is undeniable, however, that there is a lot of room for improvement.
The former prime minister has been running a re-election campaign as Democrat Party leader, so his social media accounts are active for understandable reasons. Abhisit is noticeably much less active on Instagram and Twitter, which are problems in and of itself (Thailand is crazy about Instagram!) so we’ll focus on his Facebook page.
Abhisit has been posting a lot of videos, which are not at all badly produced. A video titled ‘They Say the Democrats Are Slow’ shows Abhisit admitting that this can be true, but that under his continued leadership this can change. (Abhisit does look considerably aged from when he was prime minister, however- they might need to take a look at their lighting). Another video emphasized his re-election campaign tour throughout the country.
The hashtag that Abhisit has chosen to adopt merits some attention: “#MakeMyMark”. This is a smart play on words, given that ‘Mark’ is Abhisit’s nickname, and the hashtag invites Democrat Party members to make their mark on how their party is run while simultaneously encouraging them to vote for Abhisit. (The only jarring thing is that it may perhaps be too cute for a former prime minister).
Something that can be criticized is Abhisit’s campaign posters, where the text is small and not particularly catchy. Take, for example, the first image below, where the text states that voters should choose Abhisit to have “a leader who consistently comes up with political innovations”. No one knows what that means, and there’s way too much going on in this poster. Most of his other posts are simply albums of photos at campaign meets and greets. This is fine, but the dominance of these posts mean that Abhisit is missing many opportunities for much more effective political messaging.
Overall, Thai politicians often still do not use social media with the sophistication in which election campaigns in the West do. With the next general election due to be fought in 2019, social media will be in center stage; after all, it’s been eight years since the last general election in 2011, and social media has grown enormously in Thailand since. It’ll be exciting to see how social media continues to fit into the politics of this exceedingly social media-savvy country.