By S.G. Ang
THE Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Mohd Najib Tun Razak has dubbed it the “social media election” and there is no doubt that the Malaysian online scene is going to be ablaze with activity during the run up to the 2013 general election on May 5.
The Prime Minister acknowledges that one of the reasons the Barisan Nasional coalition lost its two-thirds majority in Parliament in the 2008 election was because of its failure to utilise online media as an effective campaign tool to disseminate information to a new group of voters – young and IT-savvy voters who relied on online and social media as their main source of information.
BN was also blindsided by citizen journalists, who sprouted out seemingly overnight on the country’s fast growing online scene, and their influence on online readers. Unlike traditional media journalists, who face certain ‘operational’ constraints, citizen journalists rarely face such challenges as they only report on their blogs or on other social media sites, such as Twitter and Facebook.
Najib recently acknowledged that the Internet can be both a bane and a blessing during the election. Nonetheless, he has embraced social media with gusto, having more than one million Twitter followers and 1.2 million likes on his Facebook page.
Many other politicians in the country, too, have jumped on the bandwagon and have set up Facebook and Twitter accounts in an attempt to reach out to the public.
It cannot be denied that, in the last decade, the Internet has played a major role in shaping public opinion in the Malaysian political scene.
At present, there are more than 13 million Facebook users in a country of 28 million people with 30 per cent of users between the ages of 25 and 34.
According to social media analytics website Socialbakers, Malaysia enjoys one of the highest Internet penetration rates among medium-income nations at 48 per cent of the population. Naturally, the May 5 election will be played out mainly on the Internet with some sites expecting online traffic to increase as the election draws closer.
Malaysiakini is one the country’s largest online sites. The news portal is the second most-visited online site in Malaysia with about 500,000 visits a day.
This subscription-based news site recently went free for the election in keeping with the spirit of democracy, says its chief executive officer Premesh Chandran.
They are expecting the number of visits to double to one million a day during this free period.
Malaysiakini believes that keeping the site free will also prevent subscribers from getting upset as they are expecting an avalanche of advertising to hit the website.
Chandran says that advertising revenue during this period will be up as they have signed deals with political parties, telcos, banks and other consumer brands.
He adds that advertisers are keen to explore online media as they know that readership will increase during the election period.
“Traditional media gets its fair share of advertising but online media is not overlooked these days as, basically, readers are aware that traditional media is controlled and regulated,” says Chandran.
A report in Business Today noted that the Asia-Pacific region posted the fasted growth in online advertising.
It added that the increase in spending on Internet ads has been driven by the expansion of social media and online video advertising.
The report highlights a study conducted by Shakuntala Makhijani of New WorldWatch Institute, who explains that television commercials, print advertising and billboards are becoming less effective.
Makhijani says advertisers are turning to more subtle techniques, such as promotional materials on blogs, product placement and interactive advertising on social media to get more advertising mileage.
She concludes that the distinction between advertising and media is increasingly blurred.
Malaysia’s online scene, therefore, is perfectly poised to grab a huge chunk of advertising revenue from the big boys of the traditional media.
Their rates are lower and their readership young and varied; in other words, everything that appeals to advertisers. It’s the perfect formula as Malaysia moves boldly further into the Information Age.
Photo credit: Colin Charles , flickr