Thailand’s PM candidates & social media in the election
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Thailand’s PM candidates & social media in the election

Yesterday I saw Yingluck Shinawatra, the Pheu Thai Party Prime Ministerial candidate, join Twitter. Using the username @PouYingluck (“pou” being a play on “pou-ying” [ผู้หญิง – Thai for woman] and her name English for her nickname crab [ปู]) she ended with day with just over 2,000 followers, which has now reached to 3,750 (at time of writing).

It’s worth noting that her Twitter username was initially @PooYingluck but, given the obviously awkward wording, it was changed today… which does make you wonder why it was chosen in the first place?!

Aside from her new Twitter presence, Yingluck has maintained a Facebook Fan Page since rumours of her potential candidacy first emerged more than a month ago, although it is only in recent weeks that numbers have risen, with more than 10,000 Facebook users liking the page at time of writing.

Yingluck clearly has a long way to go, in social media terms, when you look at Abhisit Vejjajiva’s presence. Granted the Prime Minister has had significantly more time in the political spotlight than Yingluck but – as I blogged last year – he was included on a list of 10 top world leaders on Twitter, and has 617, 970 fans on his page which is significantly more sophisticated  than his rival’s. This is of little surprise given he has dedicated social media representatives in his team – who are responsible for posting his content on social networks.

Yingluck, on the other hand, appears to have greater personal input, including photos – some of her with her son – and more interaction with users who contact her, particularly on Twitter.

abhisit-yingluck

Abhisit also has a dedicated webpage – though it acts more as a landing page – with video but he has surely missed a trick by giving up his Prime Ministerial Twitter account for a new account following the dissolution of parliament?

Rather than using Twitter to rename his original PM account, and thus retaining the 197,197 followers of @PM_Abhisit, he and his team have opted to start from scratch with a new user name, @Abhisit_DP (“DP standing for “Democrat Party”) which has just 7,224 followers.

While social media is unlikely to win an election single-handed, in failing to rename the account Abhisit’s team has blundered, losing a sizable audience at election time, when it is surely at its most useful?

All in all, (from my findings here) there are 44 politicians and/or political parties from Thailand making use of Twitter, of which few have any meaningful follower numbers or tweet with any real regularity.

Earlier this month I asked whether Thailand’s election would help increase Twitter usage in the country – and I’m still in two minds on the answer.

For one thing, the online world doesn’t represent the offline reality for a number of reasons.

Access

Internet penetration is notably low in Thailand. For example, as the CEO of True Group recently lamented, the country’s aging infrastructure means that 17 million of Thailand’s 20 million households don’t have access to broadband, coupled with which there is (infamously) still no public 3G, both of which – though not the sole access points for internet – do restrict internet access and, ultimately, symbolise the mess that Thailand’s mobile and technology sector in general is in.

Disproportionate

As the recent Singapore elections showed, online influence and share of voice do not necessarily correspond to country-wide opinion or trends and, in Thailand, where a far lower proportion of the population uses the internet or social media, this digital-real life disconnect is wider still.

A large proportion of Thai ‘netizens’ are based in Bangkok (36% if you believe Truehits‘ data) which gives the city (with an estimated metro population is 12 million of Thailand’s 67 million-plus total population) an overly disproportionate representation.

Then when you broadly consider that many poorer citizens in Thailand are unable to afford a PC or fixed internet access, the country’s online population is further skewed. Though smartphones and increasing feature-led devices at affordable price points will, in time, provide greater access to those unable to get online today.

Niche

While Twitter is rumoured to have less than a million users in Thailand, Facebook is fast moving towards 10 million members which makes it a significant potential platform to communicate through. However these do pale into the background compared to print circulation figures and TV and radio audiences which more traditional press enjoy.

That said, Facebook remains important, proof of which comes from the government’s cyber scout initiative which, as explained in this AFP story, sees volunteers scour the web for inappropriate content or comments that violate Thailand’s increasingly strict online freedom of expression laws.

Lack of interest

Young Thais are disinterested in politics, as my colleagues at Siam Voices wrote last year, and the bare facts can be seen in even clearer detail on Twitter where boring politicians must compete with trendy young celebs for the attention of the youth.

A look at Twopcharts, which curates Twitter data, and its Bangkok page shows that celebrities, gossip and entertainment type accounts are the most popular with Democrat MP Korn.

Note @Abhisit_PM is not on the list as it is located in “Thailand” not “Bangkok”

abhisit-yingluck  top-tweeters-BKK

While Thai webspace isn’t representative of the offline world, increased social media and web activity from the two main candidates – now that Yingluck is firmly on Facebook and Twitter – could see an increase in usage.

Regardless social media offers a way to communicate messages from each candidate, without going through media, allowing them to be swifter (particularly in response to major issues), more personal and direct – free from interpretation of others.

For example, in response to media questions after Yingluck’s brother, exiled former PM Thaksin, called her his “clone”, she responded with a number of tweets including the three below in English:

abhisit-yingluck  top-tweeters-BKK  yingluck-clone-tweets

Even though they may not reach a huge number of the electorate, key influencers amongst the press use Twitter and Facebook, and they often write stories around leads unearthed online. For that reason alone, both candidates are likely to ramp up their social media communication as the election campaign progresses.

More thoughts on Abhisit, Yingluck and Twitter can be found over at my ZDNet Asia blog.