Political Parties Seem to Have Missed the Social Media Boat in the Run Up to the 2014 Elections

The 2014 Elections are just less than two months away and South Africa’s political landscape is buzzing with a series of messages, campaigns, door-to-door electioneering, spats between journalists and politicians and so much more.  With the election machine currently running at full-throttle with parties fighting to get their message heard, it’s surprising that a recent research report by World Wide Worx criticises most political parties for missing the boat on social media.

Personally, I’m not surprised.  As a communicator, I believe it’s a missed opportunity.  But before everyone jumps on the band wagon to criticise South Africa’s political parties, one needs to understand the pressure and inner workings of a communications team in the run up to the elections.  It’s hectic.  Very hectic.  Issues arise every few minutes, media enquiries flood in on a daily basis and then you have to think about proactively landing your message in a saturated media pool.

One could rightly argue that that’s the perfect reason why social media is like manna from heaven but getting it right is another story all together.

Most political parties have been criticised for using their social networking forums as broadcasting mechanisms – another way to force their message down the throats of followers and users.  I agree.   The fundamentals of understanding your user base and engaging with them rather than preaching to them are applicable.

This election season is dedicated to the “born frees”.  Most political parties seem to be targeting the youth more so than before. The “born frees” will vote for the first time this year but sadly they appear mostly indifferent. I believe that the development of engaging and “shareable” content is where it’s at. Users are less likely to share political rhetoric compared to beautifully packaged visuals, videos and a thought process that speaks directly to their needs and those of their followers.

Barack Obama’s election campaign focused on the social media space and it’s reported that there were over 1 000 people in his communications team.  They started years before and focused on understanding their current and desired user base.  The team quickly learnt how to speak in the user’s language and tapped into topical issues that ensured the share ability of the content posted.

Lesson – it’s not about the political party but about the user.

Written by Trevor Chueu