There is a common saying in Mexico, “Una vez que abres una puerta, no puedes cerrarla” – once you open a door, it cannot be closed.
In many ways it seems like the Mexican government is living out this saying. We are now experiencing an important change in how the government and its people are communicating. Whereas dialogue used to be mostly dictated, content today is co-created and communication exists as a conversation between multiple parties.
As a consequence, we are now seeing social empowerment. The dialogue between the Mexican government and its constituencies has gained force; it appears that the population is demanding more of authorities, particularly in terms of transparency and open government. While the Mexican government has long remained silent about flawed policies and corruption, it is now growing increasingly harder for the administration to close the door behind them. This change is being fueled today by the digital age.
A recent example involves the case of Lady Profeco (#LadyProfeco) the daughter of the Federal Attorney for the Consumer. She used her father’s position to close down a Mexico City restaurant when she was not granted the table she wanted. As a result, a complaint posted on Twitter gained immediate momentum through social media users and the press. The movement ultimately accomplished an unprecedented decision: As part of a promise for a more transparent administration, and to steer away from the former negative image of his party, President Enrique Peña Nieto dismissed the high-level official.
There are similar cases, such as the one involving Senator Luz María Beristain (#LadySenadora), who used her position to try and intimidate an airline employee into allowing her to board a flight for which she was late. Recorded by a citizen, images of the incident were posted to Twitter as the situation unfolded.
As data from the 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer shows, Mexican society rates government as the lowest trusted entity. Today, only 8 percent of the population believes government officials will be truthful, 10 percent think they will help solve social or societal issues and of those who said they trust government less, 54 percent think corruption is the government’s biggest problem. The population is bringing corruption to light in real time and demanding that the government make itself accountable.
In order to do so, the Mexican government should:
Embrace the Change: Government officials should continue to embrace this new age of dialogue and interaction, and “walk the talk” of the new accountability era that it espouses.
Take it Seriously: It is essential that capable and experienced staff attends to official government social media channels on a constant basis and that the ongoing feedback from the population is responded to in a timely and efficient matter.
Be Authentic: While authorities are under strong scrutiny, today’s dynamic should be seen as an opportunity. As is true in most cases, if matters are addressed properly, transparency will serve as an ally to the government and should be welcomed. If issues are handled as they were in the past, then government will have to provide explanations and risk being replaced.
With Mexico’s changing communications dynamic enabling an increasingly vocal media and public, this represents an interesting moment for public relations in the region.
Fernanda Paredes is VP of Public Affairs for the Mexico office.
Image by David Light Orchard.