How Zelensky Used Social Media To Ascend From On-Screen President To Real-Life Head of State

An oddly inspiring tale on how making fun of politics throughout your career can lead you to the presidential office

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Zelensky playing Vasyl Holoborodko in “Servant of the People”

Ukraine is a land of wonderful people who often make wonderful choices in their life. And, perhaps, nothing can be more wonderful when putting a comedian into the most powerful seat of the country.

That’s what happened today. With the gentle power of a ballpoint pen, the people of Ukraine ticked the name of Volodymyr Zelensky in the voting bulletin and made him the new Head of State. Simple and, yet, wonderful choice the consequences of which we’ll see unraveling in the next five years.

And while we wait for those exciting things to happen, let’s have a look at how, in a matter of just a few months, the former comedian paved his way to winning the presidential race with the overwhelming success.

Not Your Average Comedian

Often portrayed as an ordinary comedian by the western media, Volodymyr Zelensky’s image is obviously much more complicated than it might seem on the surface. He was born into a family of highly educated parents, his father being a cybernetics professor and lecturer in the university, from which Zelensky obtained his bachelor’s degree in law, and mother working as a civil engineer for 40 years.

The foundation for the president’s entertainment career was laid down in Kryvyi Rih Institute of Economics where he took part in comedic events and performances organized by the community of local students. Over the next twenty years, he built a true cult around his personality, becoming one of the most likable and known people in Ukraine.

These days Zelensky is not just a comedian. He is an entrepreneur, scriptwriter, producer and the founder of the most successful and lucrative content production company in Ukraine. Zelensky and his team created and produced hundreds of movies and TV series both for cinema and local TV channels. He has also worked as a producer of “INTER” — one of the biggest TV channels in Ukraine.

If you’ve been following the news coverage of the elections in Ukraine, you’ve seen how media sources around the globe cited the newly elected president as someone with no political or any other relevant experience for the state governing — but that is not entirely accurate. To tell the truth, politics have been an integral part of his career for a respectful period of time. Zelensky might not have occupied political seats in the government or parliament, but the critique and disapproval of the ruling elite’s policies have always saturated his creative endeavors.

Looking back at his path, one might even say that Zelensky was consistently building his political and electoral rating through the channels never used before — entertainment and social media. And his most prominent project up to date — “Servant of the People” — is an eloquent evidence of that. In this universally-acclaimed political satire, Zelensky plays an outraged high school teacher who finds himself the country’s new president after his emotional tirade against government corruption goes viral on social media platforms.

As ironic as it might seem, the very same medium allowed him to become the president in real life.

Vlogging Your Way Towards The Presidency

The biggest part of Zelensky success shall be attributed to the ingenious use of social media and the way his team structured communication with the people across the country.

It might be President Trump who was the first one to substitute traditional mediums for the new tools like Twitter to appeal to the wider audience — but it’s Zelensky who brought this idea to a new extreme and vlogged his way towards the presidency. And, well, it worked!

By choosing YouTube, Instagram and Facebook as the main platforms for communication, Zelensky has not only benefited from the social media’s flexibility but he also monopolized the way his message is presented in public.

In other words, Zelensky effectively became the sole owner of his communication with the nation and eliminated any intermediaries that could disturb his message and his vision. Hiss used YouTube channel “Зе!Президент” for documenting meetings with journalists and experts, communicating key ideas and values of the campaign as well as building the overall image of a contemporary politician who, nevertheless, appeals to every Ukrainian — almost like a member of each Ukrainian family.

The funny fact is that Zelensky’s bet on social media didn’t have a detrimental effect on his coverage time on TV. On the contrary, his rare appearances created this aura of exclusivity and superiority over his opponents. Not mentioning that many of his YouTube videos were constantly rotating in the news of every channel in the country.

Zelensky challenges the incumbent president Petro Poroshenko to face him in pre-election stadium debate

The social media campaign paid off well indeed resulting in 73% of voters casting their votes for Zelensky in the second round of elections.

Evolving Democratic Process

The phenomenon of Zelensky’s presidency is already an exceptional one because it marks the beginning of the new political order. The order underlined by broad democratization which is manifested in three important trends.

  1. First off, the current elections in Ukraine prove that the power no longer rests in the hands of the most privileged segments of society. Zelensky is a wealthy man, indeed, but he nevertheless comes from the very bottom of the social ladder — he is the embodiment of an ordinary citizen of Ukraine who reaches the stars and becomes the most known face of the country by utilizing one’s own talent and hard work, in the absence of nebulous corruptive links.
  2. It also proves that in this day and age, the meaning of a political actor is subject to a radical re-evaluation. You’re no longer required to meticulously engineer your political image and spend your whole life in the wicked political circles, leveraging your ideals for the sake of alluring position of power. This is a new paradigm where anyone who has something to offer can make an impact right now and right here. And you don’t need extraordinary resources to achieve that — all you need is a creative mind and a prominent presence on social media.
  3. And, perhaps, the most important novelty, which I have addressed before, is the unprecedented democratization of communication with the electorate. Using modern social media tools instead of traditional ones creates channels for a direct, cohesive and swift exchange of information between the nation and the government. This shift, as well, provides the government with a stable supply of the feedback necessary to align the policies with the will of the nation.

These trends, indeed, suggest that we’re in the middle of reimagining the democratic process and we have the real power and resources to shape it in the way that would benefit all of us.

Today Ukraine snatched the lucky chance to break the vicious cycle of corruptive governments by electing the president and the team with one of the most progressive, ambitious and innovative approaches towards the state governing in Europe.

As lovely as it sounds, there is a big “but” creeping behind this all-encompassing hope. Zelensky is about to confront the incredible stagnant and diseased political elite which occupies the majority of the political landscape in Ukraine, and which will make everything possible to undermine the potential success of future progressive reforms.

The one can only hope that the newly established dialogue between the president and the nation through social media will result in more transparency and accountability amongst the decision-makers in parliament.

P.S.

You can find me on Facebook and Instagram.

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