Trends of Fake News Distribution and Counteraction in Ukraine (Part-4): Presidential communications of the war era: factors of emotional impact
Author: Alla Bakhmetieva
During the 2019 presidential campaign, Volodymyr Zelensky was often criticized for filling the media space with emotional viral messages without a significant content component. His preference for social media as a communication channel and short video as a message format, combined with his acting and trolling skills, secured him not only the support of a young audience, but also the voices of middle-aged voters. And no matter how many intellectuals urged their compatriots not to identify President Holoborodko from the TV series with the real President of Ukraine, in the end Zelensky won the 2019 race.
Candidate Zelensky’s main anti-war messages were “just stop firing” and “look Putin in the eye and make a deal”. Instead, President Zelensky had to face a large-scale invasion of Ukraine and not just shoot, but ask the allies for heavy weapons. He had to convince the parliaments and governments of dozens of countries that Ukraine would fight to victory, and all we needed were tanks, volley fire systems and missile systems. The need to “look Putin in the eye” after the Russians have committed war crimes has also been transformed into appeals to a military tribunal.
President Zelensky’s communication strategy during the war deserves a separate study, because, in our opinion, his appeals to the US Congress and the European Parliament, or to ordinary Ukrainians and soldiers of the Armed Forces are extremely balanced in content, convincing arguments and emotional coloring. Note that preference is also given to social networks and video appeals, which are sometimes published several times a day during the war, but daily evening appeals are mandatory.
As a true leader of the nation, Prezident Zelensky demonstrates the ability to deal with people’s emotions through daily communication, and it doesn’t matter whether they are experienced politicians of leading institutions of different countries or confused and demoralized citizens of Ukraine.
Daniel Goleman (2021) identifies the following social skills that will ensure the achievement of the goal of communication:
– influence (possession of effective methods of persuasion);
– communication (ability to listen openly and provide convincing messages);
– conflict management (to mediate disputes and help resolve them);
– leadership (inspire and lead individuals and groups);
– change (initiate and manage change).
Having reported on the evening appeals of President Zelensky (https://t.me/V_Zelenskiy_official) during the two months of the war, we can identify elements that consistently implement the strategic goal of these communications. The president-leader leads his people to victory (“Free people of the most beautiful country!”). President-communicator who listens attentively and hers, enlists the support of world leaders and foreign nationals, effectively persuading them to provide multimillion-dollar aid to Ukraine. As a crisis top manager, he calls for a fight on the battlefield, diplomatic, economic and information fronts.
And after the people realize the scale of destruction and despair, the President is a harbinger of large-scale change: he promises urban renewal and a new foundation in life, talks about quality urban planning, inclusiveness and energy efficiency in rebuilt cities, social justice.
Given the professional acting skills in addition to all mentioned above, we can talk about the personal phenomenon of President Volodymyr Zelensky in building strategic communications in Ukraine during the military aggression.
Candidate of Sciences in Social Communications, (PhD), Associate Professor, Mass and International Communication Department, Mass Media Faculty of Oles Honchar Dnirpo National University, Dnipro, Ukraine