On my radar: Vote like you meme it

2014-05-01 10:00

I pity the social-media specialists working for the various political parties as we get closer to voting day.

They must roll their eyes each time a party leader storms in to demand they create a “viral” social-media campaign. Social media that goes viral cannot be planned. It just happens when the right elements all fall into place – right place, right time but more importantly, when something topical resonates.

Digital advertising agencies have been trying for years to tell their clients that viral social-media campaigns are unrealistic, but they always get tasked with this anyway.

The other viral alternative is kick-starting a meme: a picture, quote or video that is tweaked and twisted, sent out on social-media platforms and spreads virally. The only problem with memes is that they spread because they’re funny (read: someone being made fun of). So it’s not quite the “viral” campaign any political party is looking for.

Most political organisations subscribe to the notion that “demographic + social media = political victory”, especially for this election in South Africa, which has been hailed as South Africa’s “first digital election”, with supposedly a significant number of born-frees voting for the first time.

But when you analyse the numbers more closely, the social-media quick fix our politicians are hoping for might just be misguided. The Independent Electoral Commission reports that 33.6% of voters born after 1994 have registered, which means

born-frees make up just 2.5% of registered voters. On the other hand, 60% of people in their 20s have registered and 90% of people older than 30 have registered. So the best voting demographic would be people between the ages of 30 and 50 rather than the millennial generation.

Research by World Wide Worx and Fuseware last year revealed there are approximately 9.4?million active users on Facebook, while Twitter has approximately 5.5?million users.

These users would predominantly fall into South Africa’s urban middle class and would exclude the vast rural population.

So when you compare the number and age demographics of registered voters with the pool of social-media users, the impact of social-media electioneering becomes narrower.

The king of the South African political Twittersphere is Julius Malema, whose personal Twitter account has about 442?000 followers; Helen Zille comes a close second with about 406?000 followers; and President Jacob Zuma has about 318?000.

But the official Twitter accounts of the three political parties tell a different story: the ANC has about 115?000 followers, the DA has about 75?000 and the EFF has about 42?000, much lower than their leaders’ personal Twitter accounts.

This shows people are more interested in following the personality than the official party, which is why Malema’s live Q&A session on Twitter a few weeks ago was arguably the most appropriate social-media strategy from any politician so far. He was providing engaging content while buffering and disguising the hard sell.

People don’t want politics force-fed to them on social media, they want content that is engaging and entertaining. But unfortunately, electioneering is all about the hard sell, which is why social media is an awkward fit with politics.

Politicians still need to learn the following hard lessons brands and retailers have had to learn over the years when using social media:

>>Your customer is way ahead of you;

>>They can sniff insincerity, even in cyberspace; and

>>?There’s a reason there’s the word ‘social’ in social media

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