Internet offers new tool for engaging the public

By By Han Songyang / 11-02-2014 / (Chinese Social Sciences Today)
During the 2012 U.S. presidential election, Democrat Barack Obama and his Republican counterpart Mitt Romney both resorted to various social media and networks for competition. Online publicity of politics has become a key approach to achieving political ends.
In our current era, the emerging trend is that nations now favor political games over military action as means of solving disputes. Thanks to the explosion in the amount of data in the world, the Internet has become a significant platform for spreading ideology, disseminating beliefs and facilitating cultural exchanges.
Using this platform, nations cannot only diffuse ideologies, beliefs and culture but also effectively wage land, air and sea warfare. This is "cyber warfare," and the key to its success is the control over the network.
Cyber power and its uses
Cyber power refers to control over the Internet, including access to the network as well as management of online public opinion. Like the command of the sea and air superiority, control of cyber power is also a highly prioritized strategic objective around the globe.
In Western countries, political network marketing is a new means of publicity and mobilization through which political organizations and candidates take advantage of new media technology to guide, mobilize and organize the public and win support for political goals.
In the process, political organizations and candidates take advantage of the network and new media, build an operational team and conduct systematic, comprehensive analysis and planning. Through efficient, professional and meticulous implementation and operations, they succeed in engaging the public in two-way interactions, which in turn captures the attention of the traditional media. Thus, hot political topics are manufactured, based on which they win more understanding, approval and support from the public.
Political network marketing
Political network marketing is a new mode of political communication that has taken shape with the advancement of network communications and information technology. In the era of Web2.0, characterized by information sharing, two-way interaction and active involvement, dissemination of information is no longer one-way and the role of the public has shifted from the passive receiver to creator of political information and participant in political activities.
It is a product of the interplay of progress in science and technology with developments in democratic politics. With aid from new media technology, the public has become more involved, information interactivity is facilitated, and information feedback has taken on an active rather than passive character. Furthermore, network media, which can never be fully controlled by the government or political parties, has become the main battlefield for political propaganda and competition, the success of which to some extent depends on whether more trust and support can be obtained from the people by way of network media.
Political network marketing is also an inevitable result of widespread and diversified development of political communication with the help of Internet users. The convenience and openness of the Internet makes it much easier for people to interact with media and engage in politics. Hierarchical differences characterized users of traditional media, while users of network media tend to be on equal footing. In addition, the anonymity and practicability of the Internet have met the basic needs of the public to interact with media and changed the passive character of traditional media users. In a word, the virtual world of the Internet makes it possible for people from different classes to exert their influence on the real world.
Political network marketing started earlier in foreign countries, where in-depth research has already been conducted in the field. A variety of technological means and marketing strategies have been applied, including the construction of Web portals with distinctive themes, timely updates to online content and improving offline interaction for online forums. Through these means, political organizations or persons can win support from the grassroots level, realizing online communication and actual interaction with supporters. They can stir up emotions of the public by posting propagandistic video clips and defame opponents by spreading negative information online. Moreover, they can also collect accurate information enabling them to analyze and mine big data on the network platform.
Through these means and strategies, political organizations and candidates in foreign nations have achieved the goals of spreading political ideas, maintaining political images, rallying public support, upsetting political opponents and shaping public opinion as well as controlling the political and economic situation. Their success is mainly attributed to the fact that they have seized the opportunities of the times, resorted to collective intelligence, applied innovative approaches, encouraged public involvement and stuck to democratic and legal systems.
Chinese online politics
With the popularization of the Internet and the advancement of new media technology, Chinese people are playing a more active role in democratic politics. As a consequence, political network marketing has become increasingly influential and important.
In China, this specialized branch of marketing includes two aspects: online advertising of politics and response to online public opinion. Research in the field is relatively mature and there are countless practical applications of online political advertising, with some scholars delving deep into the concepts of e-government and service-oriented government in the Internet age. However, the precise definition of online political advertising in the context of big data needs to be taken into consideration.
Response to online public opinion has recently become a hot research topic. The rise of new media and the advent of the Web 2.0 era have complicated online public sentiment, adding difficulty to its regulation and guidance. As a result, it is a vital question how to know, analyze, control and influence online public opinion.
To precisely define online political advertising, we need to pay attention to the following points. First, public management is the core objective of online political advertising, even if the basis of information technology is needed. Second, human resources are the core elements. The implementation of online political advertising can not do without the cultivation of professionals who possess both technical and managerial expertise.
Third, the government should play a leading role while encouraging people to participate in the process. In particular, it is important to integrate the governing concepts of the Party and the strategic measures of the government to promote economic and social development while allowing for common people to participate in public management. The online platforms and e-government service have provided channels of communication and understanding, through which effective interaction between the government and the people is facilitated.
Fourth, the application of big data is the technological basis. Application platforms should be established. Moreover, the government should cultivate a think tank of public management composed of experts in all areas to provide intellectual support, such as forming theories, drafting proposals and suggesting solutions.
In addition, the government should recognize differences of individual thinking while enhancing the openness and manageability of online public opinion. It must recognize the diversity and mobility of online public sentiment and meet the need of its development; recognize the normalization and universality of work in this field and conform to the requirements of the information age; recognize the popularization of managing online public opinion and call upon all people to get involved.
To improve the response to online public opinion, several points need to be noted. First, the government should be open to new concepts, get to the root of the matter and emphasize top-level design. Second, it should reform the existing methods and introduce flexible measures. Third, it should improve construction of institutions and systems, setting up a collaborative mechanism. Fourth, it should clarify the responsibilities of different positions. Fifth, it should apply advanced technology and smart analysis. Sixth, it should strengthen moral education and self-discipline among citizens. Seventh, it should prioritize key problems to be efficient. Eighth, it should make contingency plans, prevent emergency and reduce risk of crisis.
In the era of big data, control over the Internet has become the key for any nation or district to maintain a competitive edge in the future. For political network marketing among countries or districts, hard measures should be adopted with an emphasis on influences, control and domination. By contrast, for such marketing within a nation or district, soft power should be strengthened, with the emphasis placed on guidance, coordination and cooperation.
Han Songyang is from the Shenzhen branch of the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.
The Chinese version appeared in Chinese Social Sciences Today, No. 648, September 19, 2014

Translated by RenJingyun