When not sorting out Hong Kong’s financial affairs, John Tsang is an inveterate Sunday blogger.
Both are serious stuff, but recently, he has been putting a light touch to his social media presence.
A week before his eighth budget speech, Tsang created a Facebook page and fittingly debuted a photo of himself throwing a baseball pitch.
Yesterday, he posted a selfie with television reporters.
For someone whose comfort zone is cold, hard numbers, the switch to visuals must feel like a foray into unfamiliar territory.
But as it turns out, it’s cool and socially gainsome.
Tsang’s selfie with the TV reporters, for instance, received 3,000 likes in the first 10 hours.
On Facebook, he has 600 friends and counting. I know that because he has just made me one of them.
You don’t open a Facebook account unless you want people to know the “other you”. If you win friends and followers, that would be a bonus.
Tsang, who has been in the media glare for the most part of his 40 years in the civil service, appreciates the ability to manage his public image with the use of social media.
And like most people who are new to this cultural phenomenon, he is beginning to enjoy its enormous influence. A few selfies here and there are only a glimpse of things to come.
And who wouldn’t want friends anyway when someone has just called you a “big sinner”?
By the looks of it, tycoon Ronnie Chan, a staunch supporter of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, is no friend of Tsang’s, or he would not have called him names for sitting on a big budget surplus.
Admittedly, Tsang appeared friendlier when he doled out HK$6,000 to each adult Hong Kong resident in 2011 after a public outcry.
All told, however, he has not been the most generous financial secretary.
But for this budget at least, he might have won more friends than critics, especially with a HK$20,000 tax rebate, even though it took him seven years to realize Hong Kong’s wage earners could use some help as much as those who deserve better welfare benefits.
Tsang’s most severe critics were two leading dailies which accused him of underestimating and underreporting last year’s budget surplus to HK$91 billion from his earlier prediction of HK$9.1 billion.
But he must have felt vindicated by the overall public response, knowing how his boss made a debacle of his policy address last month.
On Sunday, four days before announcing the budget, Tsang blogged why he decided to take to Facebook.
“Honestly, I don’t have a Facebook account and I do not view other people’s Facebook until I opened my account… it was indeed an interesting experience. My younger staff must think I am a ‘country bumpkin’,” he wrote.
“I browsed the Facebook [page] of other overseas government officials and political leaders, and came to the conclusion that they are more hardworking in getting across their message on the internet… they are the real ‘keyboard fighters’.”
Message. That’s what it’s all about.
Tsang’s generous use of infographics in his budget was a sharp departure from his previous presentations and from those of his predecessors, making it easier to connect with the public.
That also made the work of journalists a lot less tedious.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association was impressed. It’s considering inviting Tsang to its annual ball in May.
The group has fiercely resisted having a government minister as guest of honor but this time, it’s making an exception.
And to think that John, as he likes to be called by his Facebook friends, is just warming up.
A certain CY and a certain Carrie could be watching.
[John Tsang's Facebook account]
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