Social media poised to be game changer in poll campaigns

Bangkok (The Nation/ANN) - The upcoming Bangkok governor election will mark a historic change in election campaigning in Thailand, with the increasing role of social media, e-commerce and e-marketing, expert Pawoot Pongvitayapanu said yesterday.

Pawoot praised independent candidate Suharit Siamwalla, who said he had spent "hundreds of thousands of baht" so far on the election campaign although the legal limit is 49 million baht (US$1.63 million), and said he was among leading candidates in surveys.

Pawoot said election candidates in future would certainly pay attention to social media early, following the example of Suharit, who started his election campaign largely on the social media before doing it in person.

Pawoot was speaking at Nforum organised by Nation Multimedia Group at Sukosol Hotel where Bangkok governor candidates MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra from the Democrat Party and independent candidate Suharit also joined the discussion.

Both candidates agreed that it was uncertain how many of the people who are active in social media would really go out to vote.

According to http://realtime.zocialeye.com/bkk2013/, which tallied the "mentions" each candidate received on social media, Pawoot said Suharit ranked third at 16.7 per cent of total mentions, 83 per cent of which mentioned him positively. Pheu Thai Party candidate Pol General Pongsapat Pongcharoen had the most mentions at 47 per cent, of which 66 per cent were positive. Sukhumbhand received about 30 per cent of the mentions with 70 per cent positive. Sereepisuth Temeeyaves received about 6 per cent of mentions, 74 per cent of which were positive, Pawoot said.

Sukhumbhand had the most access to his online audience as he had more than 242,000 followers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram combined, although there might be some overlapping. Sukhumbhand had relied on four or five helpers in the use of social media, and they relayed questions and reported to him

Sereepisuth followed Sukhumbhand with more than 222,000 followers while Suharit was third with about 135,000. Pongsapat had 123,000 followers.

Sakulsri Srisaracam, a communication arts lecturer at Dhurakij Pundit University, said that in Thailand social media use is just the dissemination of information and confirmation of supporters who had already made up their mind while policy consideration and political engagements were still low.

Sakulsri stressed that election candidates must never let anything "untrue" be released from them via social media channels.

Candidates answering questions and comments by themselves can create much more impact than relying on staff or the supporting team.

"When a candidate fails to answer a question, [social media users] will doubt why, whether it was because the candidate was actually unable to answer the question," she said.

She said candidates and their teams should hold separate accounts and make that clear when communicating with the audience.

Suharit, who answers questions on social media himself with only one assistant, said he had lately received harsh reactions from social media users. They bombarded him with questions and blamed him when he failed to answer quickly. They even asked why he answered more questions on Facebook than on Twitter. He clarified that Facebook could handle more questions than Twitter, where some messages would go missing if there were too many.

Independent candidate Wittaya Jangkobwattana, No 24, said social |media could be more reliable than opinion polls. "These [social media] are more reliable than polls. They can be verified," he said.

Sukhumbhand said he focused more on a conventional election campaign than using social media for which he relied on 4-5 helpers who relayed questions and reported to him, but he agreed about the increasing role of social media.

"There is a saying 'Knowledge is power'. But I think from now it will be 'Social media is power', as more and more people will be part of the online world," he said.

"With the number of people paying attention to social media, I admit that they are an important battle but we have to wait and see if the likes or followers in social media will convert into votes on March 3," he said.

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