You have to wonder at the quality of political advisors in this country. Sometimes, you wonder if they understand politics at all, in spite of their much vaunted reputations as consummate image makers.
The latest victim of bad political advice is Sandiaga Uno, the clean-cut and sensitive looking candidate for the Kadin chairmanship. As we all now know, Sandiaga did not even go into the second round of voting on Saturday night. He came in a distant third in a field of five candidates. This is a shame as someone with Sandiaga’s image and reputation deserves better and his Indonesia Setara campaign had tapped into a strong undercurrent in society (for a first hand report go here).
Political analysts will point out many reasons why Sandiaga did not win, chief of them because of alleged massive vote buying at the business caucus. It may have been so but that’s not so much Unspun‘s concern, which is more on Sandiaga’s political communications. Here, he bombed out with the online community on Wednesday night last week when he invited a group of bloggers to witness ostensibly the launch of his Indonesia Setara campaign.
The bloggers went there to witness the launch of the campaign and a chance to speak personally to Sandiaga but when they got there they felt duped because the event was actually an announcement of his campaign for the Kadin charimanship. The bloggers also felt doubly duped when they were shoved a press release claiming that “hundreds of technopreneurs and bloggers endorsed his candidacy for Kadin chairmanship”.
And to add insult to injury, the liaison officer later offered envelops of money to the bloggers. Within minutes, the bloggers who were there started Tweeting critically about Sandiaga and Indonesia Setara. When uberblogger Twitterer and blogger Ndoro Kakung joined in the conversation, what could be assured was that hundreds, if not thousands, of Tweeps got to know of these shenanigans.
The result was potential damage to Sandiaga’s heretofore pristine image. Did it affect his chances at the Kadin chairmanship election?
Unlikely if you look at the Kadin voting structure:
At the Kadin caucus, the decision makers are a small group. The power to vote the next chairman resides in each of Kadin’s 33 regional chapters that are entitled to three votes each. Another 30 votes are divided among Indonesia’s 180 business associations, grouped into 12 sectors.
What are the chances of these delegates being influenced by what goes on in the Blogosphere and Twitterland? Theirs is a world where influence is secured, traded and lost in smoke-filled hotel rooms and suites in Hotel Mulia. Practical considerations – some say money – but certainly political favors and alliances are the currency among these guys and gals, not something as ephemeral as reutations shaped in the ether of online communications. It is no accident that Indonesia does not have the equivalent of a Huffington Post or any prominent political bloggers.
If you accept this argument, then there is very little necessity for Sandiaga to engage bloggers and Twitterers. It was something perhaps trendy to do but was politically futile and its bad execution only harvested contempt and criticim from bloggers. Strange then why Sandiaga or his people were advised in the first place to engage with onliners, except for what Unspun would call the echo chamber trap.
This is a trap that communications advisers sometimes fall into. Like everyone else, they make recommendations largely based on what shapes their opinions. As some of these communicators are bloggers and Twitterers, their world is largely informed by what happens in blogs and Twitterland. They then make the mistake of confusing it for reality when it actually is an echo chamber for their particular interests and obsessions. They then advice their clients that social media is a must to shore up their popularity.
Sandiaga is not the only one subjected to bad political advice. Even a “seasoned” politician such as Sports Minister and former Presidential spokesperson Andi Mallarengeng was also a victim. Even with a brother, Rizal, who is a widely acknowledged expert in political communications, he spent huge resources on unnecessary communications channels when he was contesting to be head of Partai Demokrat.
Who among us could forget the extravagant billboards and television commercials that Andi launched as part of his campaign. And to what end? He lost remarkably. Again the Partai Demokrat caucus was made up of delegates who were influenced by backroom deals and alliances rather than by slick advertising and billboards. It was not as if he was asking the population to vote him in.
On the other end of the spectrum there was also Jusuf Kalla when he tried to stand for President and therefore had to appeal to the public. he did lots of stuff but one of the activities was to meet up with bloggers. It provided a good echo chmber as several people Tweeted about it and there were a few blog entries. But in the end did any of this influence the voters, most of whom do not pay attention to social media? One thinks not.
This is not to say, however, that social media is not important or effective. It was effective when it came to Prita Mulyasari and in the resistance to Information Minister Tifatul Sembiring’s attempts to introduce repressive laws on the net.
In Sandiaga’s case the chatter caused by hi Indonesia Setara campaign gives a good indication that he may be on to something. If the Tweets provide any indication it is that Indonesians are receptive to someone young, clean cut and with a clean reputation taking on a leading role. The message of greater equality for all Indonesians also seemed to have found some resonance.
Sandiaga has lost out on the Kadin chairmanship but his efforts may not have been all wasted. If he can build the Indonesia Setara campaign into a full-fledged movement he can still make a huge political impact in Indonesia. Shooting for the Presidency in 2014 is not out of the question. But for Goodness Sakes, Unspun hopes he gets competent political communications advisors that will correctly identify who he needs to influence or engage first before recommending he plunge into the latest flavor in communications – social media. Find someone with a good sense of the practicalities of life and politics, not someone working out of the Echo Chamber.
(Footnote: Unspun knows the liaison officer who offered envelopes to the bloggers on Wednesday night. Since the case came to light he has come clean, took responsibility and apologized for his actions here (comment 58). Unspun thinks he’s acquitted himself well. After all, all of us can make a mistake, but it takes courage to admit a mistake and to take responsibility for it. He’ll probably be much wiser after this. He’s young. He deserves a break.)