The Social Media Magic Behind Bangkok Governor Chadchart’s Popularity
Bangkok Governor Chadchart Sittipunt has built a huge following on social media, reaching millions of internet users who read, watch, like and comment on his regular posts and content. Credit for its online appeal goes not just to its communications team and strategy, but also to Chadchart’s character and laid-back attitude.
“Authenticity is the essence of his Facebook page,” says Prab Laoharojanaphan, who has overseen the social media account for nine years and played a significant role in Chadchart’s successful election campaign this year.
Chadchart’s Facebook page now has more than 2.5 million followers, five times more than before he became governor of Bangkok in late May.
Prab, however, refuses to take any credit, saying the strategy’s impressive results are due to Chadchart himself.
“To begin with, we have a very good ‘product’ [Chadchart] to present,” Prab said in an interview with Thai PBS World.
The essence of Chadchart
Born on May 24, 1966, Chadchart was a brilliant student. He attended the prestigious Triam Udom Suksa school before earning a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Chulalongkorn University and then traveling to the United States for further education.
He returned to Thailand with a master’s degree in engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a doctorate in the same field from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Prior to entering politics, Chadchart worked as an associate professor at Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Engineering while also serving as deputy president of the university.
As an academic, he was appointed transport advisor to several governments before being appointed deputy transport minister in 2012 under Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. On October 27, 2012, he was promoted to Minister of Transport, a post he held until the government was overthrown by the military coup of May 22, 2014.
“We started his Facebook page in 2013 when he was transport minister because we wanted to use social media to build public trust,” Prab said. At the time, the Ministry of Transport planned to develop a two trillion baht transport infrastructure, including high-speed trains.
Judging by his academic and professional record, it is clear that Chadchart has always been a very capable person. But to earn the public’s trust, he had to reach out and build a relationship with people.
“We let him write his posts himself, and some of them are relatively long because they show he actually understands what he’s talking about,” Prab said.
He added that because Chadchart has great potential, ability and dedication to his work, his team decided that all of his online communication should reflect those qualities.
His Facebook Live broadcasts, which he launched the day he entered the gubernatorial race, aim to bring him closer to people and also display his knowledge.
“If you see him at work, you can’t help but notice his skills and his empathy for people,” Prab said. One of Chadchart’s Facebook Live sessions, which are also recorded and available to watch later, has garnered over 10 million views.
“World’s Strongest Minister” Memes
Although Chadchart didn’t become an instant idol in 2013, he did gain some followers. His name was among the most searched on Google that year. He also inspired many memes after an image of him walking barefoot through a temple carrying heavy sacks of food for monks went viral. The image also earned him the nickname “the strongest minister in the world”.
Now that he’s back in the realm of politics as governor of Bangkok, he’s once again a hot topic for memes.
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Strategic and careful but fun
The content of Chadchart’s social media accounts, which now include TikTok, is the result of careful strategic planning. Only topics deemed important and relevant to people are chosen, and each goes through a thorough vetting process. As Chadchart said, there’s no reason to rush.
“Once Chadchart has finished writing their article, each member of the team studies it from all angles as an extra precaution. Sometimes we sleep on it to make sure we haven’t missed anything,” Prab said.
Although there is no voting, the team will only release the content once everyone agrees. The idea is to carefully consider issues that may be sensitive or susceptible to misinterpretation.
Yet, despite all the serious deliberation and planning, Chadchart’s communications strategy is all about “fun.”
“To make sure our posts are fun, we make sure everyone on the team is having fun. If we enjoy doing our job, chances are our communications campaign will be fun as well,” Prab said.
During his campaign, Chadchart used several interesting tricks to woo voters – including rapping. His PR team couldn’t rely on looks alone, as the former transport minister is not considered handsome by today’s Thai standards.
“We used to get comments like Chadchart isn’t pretty or attractive,” Prab said. “So we responded by offering caricatures. Feedback is good. »
Prab carefully crafted Chadchart’s communications strategy, backed by solid research. He checked several polls before proposing a dossier to present the governor’s policies for the capital.
Chadchart had more than 200 policies in mind during the gubernatorial race, and Prab backed that approach because it echoed a trend among U.S. presidential candidates. Barack Obama ran for president with 28 key policies in 2008, while Hillary Clinton listed 41 policies eight years later, and last year Joe Biden unveiled 51 before being elected president.
“The Democratic Party campaign document is also getting longer. In 1988 it was 5,000 words, but in 2020 it has increased to 40,000 words,” Prab said.
A specialist in communication sciences, Prab understands that the Internet has changed the way we consume information. People are now more active: when they are interested in an issue, they browse the net to find out.
“That’s why we created a political platform for Chadchart, not a political catalog,” said the communications expert.
Instead of presenting a long list of policies, Chadchart.com simply says that the new governor has many policies to explore. Its 200+ fonts are divided into different categories, so visitors can zoom in on what’s most relevant to them.
“We had about 150 policies when we launched the website. Over time, that number grew to 216 based on visitor responses,” he said. “Interestingly, ‘student uniform’ is among the top 20 search words on the website. It shows us what is important to some people.
By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk
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