Seven ways for political parties to win on social media before South Africa’s National Government Elections

From Donald Trump’s tweets that make the news, to Helen Zille’s jaw dropping updates, and Jacob Zuma’s videos on Twitter, politics have become a staple across social media timelines. Election time is the perfect opportunity for political parties, and their leaders, to create a digital and social media strategy that resonates with their constituencies and keeps people engaged. Most political parties in South Africa tend to shoot from the hip; to approach social media only as a campaign tool, rather than a significant part of their strategy. This year, things will need to be different to convince the hyper-connected voter.

Social Media

How to change the existing approach:

  1. Research conversations from among key people in your constituencies

    Social media platforms give us the ability to research keywords, discussions and hashtags which are clues around what people feel about certain topics. One of the ongoing discussions among South Africans on social media is their uncertainty about which party to vote for, that most political formations are great on paper but fail to convince voters with their actions and interactions. Looking at some of these numerous updates, comments by friends, and others echo similar sentiments.

    Politicians, by the looks of it, are going on as though it’s business as usual.

    Campaigns seem to work off the assumption that this election will be the same as others, that manifestos and sloganeering are enough to sway the voters.

    Yet every other post tells us that people do not feel as though their views are being represented by a team that speaks to them. Basic conversation data is easily and freely accessible to inform a party that wants to stand for the change that individuals are calling for.

  2. Train a team of leaders across the social web and collaborate with them

    Most parties use their profiles to promote media statements and press releases, which are important but can also take away from human interaction (more about this later) and this is a hugely missed opportunity. Research we conducted on social media leading up to the election of ANC president, Cyril Ramaphosa, showed that parties with vocal members on Twitter drove a more powerful narrative.

    This was the case in ANC party narrative where the DA and the EFF had vocal individuals, which led to these opposition parties being nearly as visible as the ANC. This meant that, when people looked at ANC party election mentions, the DA and EFF would show up nearly as many times as the ANC. Opposition parties in this case had more influential party leaders speaking up against the ANC process, and adding to the narrative.

    While there may have been numerous contributing factors that caused this, one stand-out reason is that individuals are typically more trusted than brands or political parties. They are also able to disengage from a script, and can interact more meaningfully with their followers. Political parties tend to have a “safer” (read as boring) scripted approach in their response to user comments, which they feel might serve the party well, but in reality, it builds more walls between the party and its constituent base. Having individual voices and responses resonates more with people than media statements and strict, scripted party lines, and the resulting content feels more honest, authentic and transparent.

  3. Drive regular social media engagement

    Critics have pointed out that politicians and their various formations utilise social media to drive propaganda and party messaging. With over 2,7-billion people across social media, building an engaged audience is worth the time and investment – beyond just pushing messages.

    Political parties can see a lot of benefit from regular interactions with their followers, which can range from live videos on Instagram or Facebook, and ongoing Twitter question-and-answer sessions.

    Fake news has become part of our daily lives, so much that some people cannot tell the difference between honest reports and misinformation.

    As we head to May, when it’s estimated that South African national elections are likely to take place, open public interactions may be helpful for parties as a way of dispelling misinformation.

    Hosting these sessions every fortnight at first, then weekly as we close in on the elections, will contribute towards building and maintaining an approachable organisation. The ones who are authentic and honest may win voters over with their openness, which millennials appreciate among their chosen leaders.Voter comments

  4. Create videos for the social web

    Since joining Twitter in November 2018, former president, Jacob Zuma has posted many videos as interactions with South Africa and the world. The account has been one of the fastest growing ones in South Africa and has had its fair share of media mentions. This has, in some ways, increased brought the former president back to the nation’s consciousness without the need to seek media in traditional ways.

    According to the SA Social Media Landscape by Ornico and World Wide Worx, South Africa has over 8-million Twitter users.

    Video is also the fastest growing form of rich media content on across the social web with platforms like IGTV solely dedicated to this form of media.

    Unlike traditional media video, social media requires shorter, punchy content that makes its point quickly and succinctly. These can form part of ongoing messaging that addresses burning issues that come up in ongoing interactions from the previous point. It can also be used to breakdown the often wordy and complex elections manifestos that hardly resonate with the public.

  5. Be more human

    Since the days of former president, Barack Obama’s wildly successful campaign that many politicians and world leaders try to copy, social media makes political leaders accessible. And to win people over, politicians should come out from behind party manifestos, rehearsed speeches and spin.

    Social media, from Instagram to LinkedIn offers users the opportunity to connect at a human and approachable level, which is what’s missing – in some ways – in South African politics. This is arguably the case in politics across the world, because even some of the most active leaders are not responsive.

  6. Reach out to engaged micro-influencers and reward them

    Every community has its influencers, individuals who sway the conversations one way or another, and individuals whose mentions generate more chatter than average. As a party that’s paying attention to both data and people, you’ll begin to notice who these individuals are in your community.

    Some of these engaged individuals will be micro-influencers, people with a relatively niche following who are not big-name celebrities. Once they have emerged from the noise and clutter, whether they are card carrying members or not, find a way to reward them. This may be an invitation to a closed event where they get to ask questions, or another useful form of interaction.Voter opinions

  7. Consolidate all digital communication

    One of the great things about social media is its immediacy, the ability to disseminate a message in real-time to people across the world. It’s also arguably its curse because our timelines are so filled with messaging from everywhere that important communication drowns in a sea of ever-increasing noise.

    How can organisations address this? Build a platform that can consolidate these interactions into a single, owned platform that anyone, including the media followers, can get access to. Your digital team can then curate conversations, Tweets, Instagram images and video content that can be displayed on the site.

    A single platform for all social media interactions, such as a microsite, will ensure that you separate yourself from the noise and make content more visible. Some of this content can be referred back to for articles and other content.

The 2019 elections will be interesting with more political formations coming to the fore over the past few months, three of which are led by people with known public profiles. Parties need to stand out and prove to uncertain voters that they deserve a chance, which will largely be the product of creative and transparent communication with South Africans. Social media and digital platforms may prove to be most effective way to reach out.

This post was first featured on BizCommunity.  

Social Media Race to the ANC Presidency: The resignation and the presidential hopefuls

This article was first featured on WordStart.

As the ANC presidency campaigns intensify, often marred by scandals, violence at the Eastern Cape Electoral Conference, renewed calls for President Jacob Zuma to step down by some corners of society and opposition parties. The question of succession is a pressing one, and it’s interesting to monitor social media chatter as it relates to the South African political scene.

Two recent events created quite a stir online. On Thursday, 21 September 2017, ANC presidential hopeful, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, was sworn into parliament, on the same day, Dr Makhosi Khoza, dropped a bomb that sent shock waves across social media by resigning from the ANC.

WordStart, in collaboration with Crimson Hexagon, have investigated, tracked and analysed the social media conversations, the sentiment and public social media perceptions, as they relate to these two events. This specific analysis forms part of a larger piece of social media research that will investigate the race to ANC presidency that will be decided at the electoral conference due to take place in December this year.

An analysis of social media data for the period 1 September to 1 October 2017 reveals just over 16 000 posts on the topic of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Makhosi Khoza, with the most mentions happening on Twitter on the 21st of September 2017. Some people on social media felt the move to swear in Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma would position her campaign more effectively in the running for the party’s top post.

The graph below shows the total number of posts that mention both Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Makhosi Khoza throughout the period and the 21 September spike is clearly evident. Leading up to 21 September, social media conversations were dominated by the public’s choice of ANC candidates. As factions within the ANC, and the public at large align with their candidate for party president, we see more linked social conversations, with Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa often mentioned alongside Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

Makhosi Khoza began making a greater appearance in social media mentions from 5 September, with some public mentions speaking about her redeployment from chairperson of the Public Service and Administration Committee to the Economic Development Oversight Committee. We see social media making more mentions of Khoza on the 10th and 11th of September following her non-attendance of a disciplinary hearing.

Total posts for the period: Data made available to WordStart by Crimson Hexagon

Total posts for the period: Data made available to WordStart by Crimson Hexagon

One day in September

21 September saw most of the posts being shared on social media, where 90% of the 4 954 posts that were picked up came from Twitter and the majority of these were by members of the public who watched parliamentary proceedings. The surnames ‘Khoza’ appears 3 805 times mostly from Twitter, followed by ‘Dlamini’ which makes 717 appearances and ‘Zuma’ which accounts for 760 mentions.

Zuma has overlaps between the president and Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma both of whom come up a lot in social media mentions on 21 September. When looking deeper into the social media data we also note mentions of ANC national spokesperson Zizi Kodwa whose surname comes up in 108 mentions from the media to the public.

Top 10 Tweets on 21 September: Data made avaialable to WordStart by Crimson Hexagon

Top 10 Tweets on 21 September: Data made available to WordStart by Crimson Hexagon 

 

Top 20 sites with the most mention on 21 September: Data made available to WordStart by Crimson Hexagon

Top 20 sites with the most mention on 21 September: Data made available to WordStart by Crimson Hexagon

 

Twitter mentions still largely referenced media houses as they were the ones who shared most near real-time stories and happenings from parliament. The public sentiment on most social media data sourced by WordStart and Crimson Hexagon on 21 September are negative towards the ANC, while suggesting that the resignation was a positive move on the part of Makhosi Khoza, which in turn also supports her arguments and her perspective on the corruptness of the ANC.

Although Twitter was the most dominant platform on 21 September accounting for 90% of total mentions (or 4 482), there was also a general dominance of known media outlets that South Africans generally follow for daily content. It is also worth noting that most news content ends up on Twitter and other social platforms, which further adds to the overall mentions among the 16 084 for the month. Most Facebook content is kept private and not available for usage or analysis by outside platforms, as a result the numbers remain low due to the platform’s restrictions.

Most active content drivers

People on social media were vocal throughout the month, from Khoza’s public criticism of ANC processes citing that the Pietermaritzburg High Court ruled that the party’s provincial leadership was unlawfully elected to her invitation of media as she prepared for the announcement on 21 September. The most influential Twitter content was driven by media outlets which account for 15 of the top 20 most influential authors and the Democratic Alliance was also among the most influential authors over the period.

Top 20 most influential authors (1 Sept – 1 Oct 2017): Data made available by Crimson Hexagon

Top 20 most influential authors (1 Sept – 1 Oct 2017): Data made available by Crimson Hexagon

We begin to see an even split of individuals and media in the top 10 of the most active Twitter users over the period. The list below is a collection of Twitter accounts that had the most number of tweets on the topic of Makhosi Khoza and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in September 2017.

Top 10 most active Twitter accounts

Top 10 most active Twitter accounts

 

 

 

Most prevalent social media topics

Social media data shows President Jacob Zuma as the common link in all mentions about both Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and former ANC MP, Dr Makhosi Khoza. In the case of Khoza, people make mention of the president in association with the resignation and the reason for the disciplinary hearing. It is also perceived that Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma goes into parliament as a way for the president to enable her party presidency campaign to gain momentum.

Most prevalent topics in 10 000 posts: Data made available to WordStart by Crimson Hexagon

Most prevalent topics in 10 000 posts: Data made available to WordStart by Crimson Hexagon

A snapshot of the first 4000 thousand posts shows Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa with greater prominence, who was mentioned a lot in relation to his campaign now that Dlamini-Zuma is in parliament. Some of the data also alludes to allegations of an affair which some people think may affect Ramaphosa’s run for ANC president.

The first 5 000 posts also show themes that include ANC corruption, the Gupta family and the ANC elective conference in December. Some earlier and less prominent themes begin to decline as more post data is included.

As the ANC pre-election campaign for presidency takes shape among various candidates, some of the big occurrences of September brought up many assumptions across social media. People are referring to strategies that are being employed by candidates that are in the running for presidency, some of which Khoza’s resignation is seen to have impact in. The president is perceived by social media as being aligned with Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s campaign with some ANC structures also coming up in conversations.

WordStart and Crimson Hexagon will bring more data as the campaigns intensify leading up to the December 2017 ANC elective conference.