Assessing the Hong Kong government’s communications during Occupy Central

The Hong Kong’s government’s communications response to the Occupy Central protests met with a chorus of disapproval at a recent PR event I attended here in the SAR. According to the panelists, the authorities were unprepared, have had little concrete to say and appear woefully out of touch. There’s much in this. However, it is equally fair to say they have been dealing with an extremely difficult situation and that there are some things they have done reasonably well.



In note form, here’s my take on the HK government’s performance, focusing on its words rather than its actions:

The challenge

  • Highly emotional, polarized and volatile political environment
  • Unconventional and disciplined protesters
  • Lack of clarity about depth of support for the Occupy movement
  • A roudy LegCo and media
  • An ongoing background disinformation campaign by Beijing.

What went OK/well

  • The openness of the public TV debate
  • HK chief secretary (civil service head) Carrie Lam’s performance as lead government negotiator and debater
  • Keeping HK chief executive CY Leung in the background (largely)
  • Vocal support from pro-Beijing politicians and, rather more intermittently, business and community leaders.

What could/should have been better

  • Inadequate explanation of Beijing’s nomination decision
  • Insufficient communications preparation for the ensuing crisis
    • Slow/reactive initial response, enabling protesters to dominate the media agenda
    • Should have got protesters to the negotiating table – public or private – faster
  • Lack of effective spokesperson
    • CY is a poor natural communicator, typically appearing overly scripted and exhibiting poor body language and lack of eye contact
    • Video analysis indicates CY exhibits ‘very low substance and low authenticity’
    • The almost total absence of the HK police leadership
  • Inappropriate tone of voice
  • Poor quality and inconsistent messaging
    • For example, the lack of support for claims about foreign influence
    • CY Leung’s gaff over the CE nominating committee being only for the rich
    • Inconsistent claims eg ‘HK in chaos’ and ‘dwindling numbers of protesters’, sometimes in the same statement
  • Poor storytelling
    • Little use of video, photos etc to tell the government story, rebut rumours etc
    • Only recently has the government made a concerted effort to illustrate its side of the story
  • Inadequate use of social media
    • Social media is the communication tool of choice amongst young Hong Kong-ers, and has been used heavily to organize and mobilize the protests
    • But the HK government appears not to have a social media strategy, using it in an ad hoc manner to push its communications
    • Nor does it have a social media crisis communications strategy – its use of Twitter, Weibo and other social media to communicate the government’s position during the protests has been minimal.

Anything you disagree with? Or feel I have missed?


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