Brut, TikTok, Twitch…when the Government goes “young”
Young people under the age of 30 certainly consume information differently, that is, through specific social networks, that have come to be known as “youth” media. In order to reach the youth on subjects that concern and mobilize them, be it climate change, police brutality or prejudice, politicians, and especially the government, are tempted to use these very media. And in all fairness, the new generation does seem more receptive to a 100-word blurb or a two-minute video than to a two-page article or a one-hour press conference. By bringing its content and information to non-traditional platforms, the government’s ultimate goal is to make its communication more inclusive and diverse. With the hope of course, of reaching beyond the immediate target and benefiting from the ultra-modernity necessarily attached to the youth.
The latest example is that of the President of the Republic. The latter gave an interview on December 4th to the media Brut, which undoubtedly falls into the category of youth media, during which he expressed himself on several topics of national importance. The government spokesman, Gabriel Attal, for his part, has been regularly using various social networks such as Twitch, Instagram, Twitter, to answer questions from citizens. One could also mention other less on point attempts such as Marlene Schiappa’s video on TikTok last November-end. But whichever be the media used, or the form chosen, the effectiveness of these interventions remains questionable.
Upon closer examination, Emmanuel Macron’s quasi-monologue on Brut brought little new information to young people and was not fundamentally different, in form or content, from what it would have been on a more traditional medium. Most of the comments made during this speech concerning young people directly had already been heard in his 2017 election campaign speeches. On the other hand, he had very few answers to questions about the professional future of the youth in context of the repercussions of the health crisis. Several comments made by the target audience on the interview highlighted its disappointment with the fairly conventional and vague messages developed on economic and ecological issues by the President. Additionally, similar interviews with Mediapart in 2016 and 2017 had already been broadcast simultaneously on Facebook, YouTube and Dailymotion.
So, if neither the content nor the format has really been adapted to this new media and its target audience, then what is the point of using it?
Why would one choose it? Is taking an “adult” narrative on a youth medium really a way of “talking to young people”? Overall, the objective seems to have been in giving a “youth” color to government communication rather than really engaging in communication for young people. Ultimately, the interview ended up attracting the attention of the conventional media: the interview was notably relayed on the classic news channels.
Another interesting example that merits analysis: after Emmanuel Macron and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the Minister Delegate in charge of Citizenship Marlène Schiappa arrived last November, on the TikTok video application. This social network, which is popular with young people under 25 years of age, has the primary objective of entertaining through music videos where users sing in playback on well-known songs or sound extracts.
Her first video, with music by the singer Beyonce, was aimed at young entrepreneurs, especially young women entrepreneurs, parodying the Swiss influencer Jean-Pierre Fanguin, who last spring proposed a quick money earning to his followers using their cell phones and promoting a type of crypto-currency. This attempt at riding on the buzz turned out to be more ridiculous and inappropriate than humorous. One only has to look at the numerous reactions of TikTok users to the video to realize that young people did not appreciate the unsolicited intrusion of a government official into an entertainment environment like TikTok.
Even though she felt that she was reaching out and engaging in conversation with young people, what Marlène Schiappa did not grasp, and she is not alone in her misunderstanding, is that a communication action must carry a message to be relevant and effective. But this video and this account do not meet this imperative. For a minister, a social entertainment network for young people is not necessarily the right place to get his/her messages across.
But, at the same time, we must stress that not all the government’s attempts on social networks are necessarily doomed to failure. As mentioned earlier, Gabriel Attal’s regular exercises in decoding government legislation and answering substantive questions show what utility the use of social media such as Twitch can bring. Last October, the government spokesman collaborated with the Youtuber EnjoyPhoenix on her channel to raise awareness among young people about the worsening health situation. The messages were clearly developed. Live feeds on Instagram, questions/answers on Fun Radio or Virgin Radio, have allowed Gabriel Attal to broadcast and explain the actions of the Government. And it is probably in an approach of this type that the key to mobilizing social media in an appropriate and useful way lies.
In view of the 2022 presidential election, more and more politicians are likely to attempt the use of TikTok or Twitch, as was the case in the United States during the last presidential campaign. However, beyond the differences between French and American youth, it will be necessary to adapt to the codes of these networks and develop relevant messages. To address young people, it is not enough to create a TikTok account or to be interviewed on Brut. It is also necessary to enter into conversation with them, and to do so, it is necessary to adapt to their issues and expectations, by developing messages that respond to them.