Social Media and the Upcoming Election

Published on Friday, 07 March 2014 by Chris Botha in The Mediashop news

The US presidential elections in 2009 redefined US politics and electioneering in so many ways. The most obvious being Barack Obama becoming the first black President of the USA, but the second being the massive and influential role that social media played in determining who the eventual winner would be. Suddenly social media and politics were in bed together- probably forever!

So what did Barack Obama do that set the trend? Let's start with the "meat and potatoes" - He created a website barackobama.com that was run and managed by Chris Hughes, one of the founders of Facebook. The website included online tools that stimulated conversations, and spread policy information in blog and photo format. He then built a massive Facebook presence (through paid audience acquisition), and to this day is in the global top 10 of people followed on Twitter. (He currently has a mere 42m followers on the platform!)

The Obama administration "got" that they could spend some money, to build a big base of consumers who they could speak to on a regular basis at little cost. The real power of social media was harnessed.

So here we are today. South Africa 2014. Mere months away from the 2014 National Elections. Have South African parties learned from President Obama, and are they implementing social media strategies in their campaigns?

Well yes. But some of them more successfully than others.

The ANC has been active on social media and built a pretty strong base. 100,000 Twitter followers and 60,000 likes on Facebook (even though the page is not formalised). They have done a great job on MXit, where they have in excess of 300,000 subscribers to their channel, and rank amongst the biggest branded channels in SA.

The D.A. has 60,000 likes on Facebook, and the same number of followers on Twitter. Their MXit channel has over 200,000 subscribers.

After much ridicule and criticism of social media, the EFF have had an interesting start on the various platforms, specifically Twitter. The party itself has 37,000 followers on Twitter and 4,000 likes on Facebook.

I find the relative size of Twitter and MXit following to Facebook likes interesting, considering, Twitter and MXit, the younger, and globally smaller platform, seems to be preferred for this type of discussion and interaction in South Africa.

The other dynamic to consider is the leadership battle - where the leaders in their individual capacity are all also doing incredibly well. Jacob Zuma has 312,000 followers on Twitter (even though he hasn't tweeted since Oct 2013). Helen Zille (383k followers) and Julius Malema (420k followers), are both very active on Twitter, and rally a lot of support and reaction with every 140 characters entering the digital universe.

So yes to social media in a politically hot SA 2014. Social media will be a massive platform for political leaders to communicate from. Especially to the young voters (the least involved, and most fickle). The IEC themselves have embraced this, and currently stands with 140,000 Facebook likes, 30,000 Twitter followers and nearly 300,000 subscribers to their MXit channel.

Even though all of the above numbers seem small in the context of 30 million adults, we need to remember that these consumers are active, involved, interested consumers who are likely to vote. The political parties no doubt have also realised that in social media, they have direct, free of charge, contact with a large chunk of voters.

The characteristics of social media make it a medium that deserves disproportionate attention. Just ask that Obama guy.

Last modified onThursday, 15 June 2017 15:37