The top political topics on English language social media are the Adani coal mine, economy, social policy, governance and the environment (Fin Review, 24 April 2019), with Bill Shorten, Scott Morrison and Pauline Hanson the top politicians mentioned, but as we heard on ABC’s AM this morning, there is a whole other social media world out there in the form of WeChat –a Chinese behemoth application used by around a million people in Australia and over a billion people in China.
Social media played a big role in the 2016 election of Trump with so-called Russian interference, so what is going on in Australia? This is the first Australian election with significant interest in Chinese voters and it is all playing out on WeChat.
Kevin Rudd took to the WeChat waves in Mandarin with aplomb. Ted Baillieu, former Victorian premier, was also a political pioneer in WeChat and it was looked after by his Media Advisor, Gladys Liu, now standing for the Liberal Party in Chisholm. Julia Banks, it is claimed, used WeChat – again with Gladys’s guidance – to help her win Chisholm in the 2016 Federal Election (ABC online).
Scott Morrison launched his WeChat during Chinese New Year and his first post showed him addressing the crowd with our MD, Charles Qin, interpreting! His post, no doubt got a boost from Charles’s large WeChat following!
We’ve learnt this morning that PM Morrison and Opposition Leader Shorten’s WeChat accounts are, in fact, registered to unknown Chinese in Fujian and Shandong Provinces in China – not in their own names. How could this be?
Fergus Ryan, Australian Strategic Policy Centre, was quoted on ABC online “…first and foremost we should know the names of the people these accounts are registered to and how they were registered and what is the relationship between these people and the politicians in question”.
There are a variety of types of WeChat accounts and one needs to choose the correct process or risk not having a legal account (the Chinese government can shut such accounts down and they are subject to censorship), and not being able to reach the target audience. The content also must be catchy, well-crafted and targeted, and, dare I say, well translated – anything less may go viral for the wrong reasons, a most recent example of Burberry’s ‘modern’ Chinese New Year ad campaign drew criticism in China: “These people look like actors in a horror movie”. WeChat users think photos from the campaign are “weird” and make them “uncomfortable”.
Those managing WeChat accounts for Australian politicians, or other organisations, need to be well-versed in the subject matter and in Australian circumstances – especially important in politics, and experts in Chinese culture. A WeChat gaffe can be just as devastating to a political campaign as any other media blunder.
As Wanning Sun, UTS writes for SBS: “WeChat is now a must for politicians, and the contest on this battleground will only intensify as the federal election looms”.
As the SBS article confirms, politicians need a specific WeChat strategy and to win Chinese votes depends on how effective their communication strategies are.