Really, there is nothing wrong with paying social media influencers to promote Budget 2018

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It was revealed recently that the Ministry of Finance paid Instagram influencers to promote Budget 2018. This was met with mockery by many netizens, some of whom complained that this was a waste of money, and that the government is really “trying too hard”.

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This might prove to be a controversial opinion, but there really is absolutely nothing wrong per se in paying social media influencers to promote Budget 2018.

I believe that we can all agree that the passing of the national budget is an extremely important event, and that it is good to raise public awareness of it. This is because, public awareness is a necessary precondition for people to contribute their views, which in turn fosters a healthy deliberative democracy, as it ensures that no major legislation is passed with the informed consent of the people.

Hence, it is appropriate for the government to take any means necessary to promote Budget 2018, especially among young people, who have a long future ahead of them and are therefore arguably the people most affected by future policies. Using Instagram influencers to do this is not too bad an idea.

Some netizens have argued that this is inappropriate because the Budget is a rather serious matter, and using influencers to promote it trivializes the matter. I do not agree entirely.

Perhaps if an influencer decided to photograph him or herself scantily clad, with a deeply inappropriate caption, then we might have a good reason to cry foul. However, most of the posts that these influencers have been circulating so far have been completely appropriate. They appear to have delivered the government’s message to their followers in a tasteful manner. I do believe that if an influencer behaves inappropriately, the government should terminate its advertising contract with him/her. But that has not happened yet, so everybody please calm down.

Another case where we may have a right to cry foul would be if the government overpaid these influencers. For example, if a person with very few followers was paid an exorbitant sum to promote the Budget. However, this is not a problem that is unique to Instagram advertising, or social media advertising, or even advertising as a whole – it pertains to any government contract. Hence, there is no reason to be especially uncomfortable with the present situation, unless you actually believe that Instagram advertising is ineffective in reaching out to the youth and is therefore a waste of money, in which case you are probably wrong.

On the other hand, this netizen had a complaint of a different nature:

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Well, perhaps so. But if the government had paid an ad agency to put up ads on buses or taxis, nobody would have said anything, even though we can be quite sure that ad agencies are not finance experts either, and probably do not care about the budget any more than influencers do – what they do care about is securing their advertising contract and promoting the material they have been told to promote. This is because, like these influencers, advertising is their job.

I can understand the knee-jerk reactions of many Singaporeans who feel uncomfortable about what the government is doing. I do believe however, that much of this discomfort actually stems from their resentment towards social media influencers as a whole, which in turn, is probably a result of their negative perception towards “frivolous Instagram-obsessed hashtag-fueled millennials”.  While it may be acceptable to open up a separate conversation about this matter, surely it is quite unfair to take out one’s grievances towards influencers on the government? Especially when they are clearly trying hard to engage the youth, which I argue, is extremely important.

As a final point, it is quite interesting to note that in some ways, doesn’t the very fact that we are all talking about this right now prove that the government’s advertising efforts to promote Budget 2018 actually worked. I guess the old adage rings true – “there is no such thing as bad publicity”.

Author’s note: In my discussions with some netizens, I have come to agree that some of the resentment here arose not necessarily from the dislike of influencers per se, but also from the dissatisfaction towards the government’s handling of various issues and so netizens are using this opportunity to lash out. To them, the government ought to be focusing on resolving these issues, and not busy hiring influencers. I think this is a fair point- inherent resentment probably plays a part here too.

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Written by Rio Hoe

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