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The correct use of social networks, a new key skill and competency?

How can a government communicate on social networks in times of crisis?
As a sign of the times, communication with citizens is becoming more horizontal. Among the “culprits” are social networks. Behind this plethora of words we find online communication platforms, instant or not, allowing to exchange on everything and nothing with anyone.

However, the regulation of these sites remains rather vague and their cooperation with the authorities, in times of crisis, is never automatic. Let us remember that these platforms are operated by commercial companies from Silicon Valley and, more recently, China.

However, their growth has been meteoric, and their population penetration rate is now global. So much so that our political leaders must use them, in addition to traditional channels, if they wish to relay their messages to a large part of the population. The figures speak for themselves :

Social Media Usage

wdt_ID Platform Number of active subscribers worldwide, by month and in millions Date
1 Facebook 2,490 M 10/2019
2 WhatsApp 2,000 M 02/2020
3 YouTube 2,000 M 2020
4 Facebook Messenger 1,300 M 09/2019
5 Instagram > 1,000 M 2019
6 Twitter 321 M 02/2019
7 LinkedIn 252 M 2019
8 Snapchat 210 M 10/2019
9
Platform Number of active subscribers worldwide, by month and in millions Date

The Covid19 health crisis offers an interesting field of application. On an unprecedented scale, it affects the entire planet and generates countless questions from the public. However, public communication systems are still top-down, and it is crucial for the authorities to set up more horizontal, interactive, and real-time systems, in order to alleviate their anxieties.

The correct use of networks has now become a key skill and competency. Moreover, few of us would understand why public leaders are not able to master them – once in command, when candidates in the campaign seem to use these same channels with virtuosity. Even if the complexity of implementation is quite different at the state level…

What types of communications work in times of crisis?

  • Instructions and reminders to be passed periodically, concerning health gestures and practices.

  • Figures to be relayed when the communication of the crisis takes on a more statistical front.

  • Messages in line with current events: welcoming the practices and initiatives of citizens who are moving in the right direction, thanking people for their investment (carers, volunteers, police forces, etc.).

  • Measures to be relayed such as reminders on the use of travel documents or curfew conditions; but also, when they are new, to explain them concretely and in addition to the pedagogical work already carried out by the news channels.

  • Fake news to deny, these are a major source of destabilization for our governments, so to be able to counter-inform by moderation as soon as possible allows us to clear the mines. It must be said that the free access by any citizen to these platforms mechanically increases the risk of propagation of involuntary fake news, by misunderstanding or misinterpretation, or even deliberately.

What are the means to do this?

If the pretexts for communication are varied and the offer in platforms is satisfactory, the question of means remains. In the same way that companies have set up community managers and then Chief Digital Officers, the States have no real equivalent. Even if good profiles can be recruited from the private sector, official communications are still too much marked by protocol and etiquette, corseted by the customs of another era.

They do not allow for the required responsiveness in the event of a crisis when politicians do not respond directly from their own account. Isn’t a Prime Minister or President who tweets (or gets tweeted) the ultimate arbiter?

The management of online crisis communications may still have a few steps to go through and a few locks to break when it comes to delegation. This is all the truer for small crises, where the actors are each time to be coordinated according to the nature of the threat, than for longer ones, which leave the authorities time to set up certain patterns.

However, the use of social networks in such a context has proven its worth. It has reached a level of maturity and is a turning point for state communication.

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