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With local elections right around the corner, I’ve been thinking: Will Social Media be in a position to have an affect on the 2014 national South African elections?

From 3 years away it may seem like a pointless question.  But it’s damn interesting. Social media had a lot to do with the 2008 US Presidential election and Obama’s success in winning. From the very beginning of the campaign the use of social networks were planned into the campaign and its success was stunning.

Whether this can be similarly done in South Africa in 2014 depends in great measure on the state of internet penetration in South Africa by 2013.  Currently our internet population is flirting around the 7 million mark – about 14% of the population.  By 2013 this is expected to rise to 10 million which is only 20%.  However, more telling is that these 10 million people will represent about a third of the eligible voters.  While it’s not overwhelming it cannot be ignored. And we cannot ignore the fact that it has been a constant problem to get our younger voters to the polls.  This may well be the ticket.

So let’s assume social media will be a factor – a major one. How would or could it be used? Here are some of my ideas:

I should put in a disclaimer that given the rapidly changing field these ideas may be hopelessly inadequate by the time 2014 rolls around, but here goes.

First, whichever political party(ies) that get smart enough to do this will have to start work soon on building a community.  This medium works best over time where your interaction is shown to be honest and genuine.  No good starting this 2 months from the election

  • Smart phone applications for political parties.  The DA or ANC app could be kind of interesting.  And really, they would HAVE to be interesting.  These can be used to keep followers updated on the campaign and elicit action from supporters. Donations would also be possible through the app and make it possible to donate anything from R5 to R5 million (you wish).
  • Leaders could set up on Quora to answer questions about their campaign and their promises.
  • An obvious one is Twitter – any politician that isn’t on Twitter by 2014, well really, will they even be there?
  • Creating a Twitter community that will keep each other informed through lists or hashtags on campaign developments.
  • Leaders will understand the need to engage individual supporters on their questions and concerns
  • Crowdsourcing through Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare for: Understanding needs to smaller communities, ideas for rallies, ideas for community activism.
  • Capturing interviews and videos on the fly, uploading to You Tube.
  • The success of such a campaign will be measured by how much social media activism is generated.  Any good campaign is adopted by its market and is spread by them.  I’m very eager to see how this plays out.

Lastly, the biggest challenge for any election is actually getting people to go the polls.  For this I believe location  based platforms such as Foursquare or Facebook Places could have a major impact if mobile adoption has enough penetration in the next 2 years. A committed corps of volunteers could use Twitter and Facebook so get people committed to vote.  They can then use Foursquare or FB Places to show they showed up at the voting station to cast their vote.  Additionally these platforms can be used to inform followers or fans of rallies and events in their local areas.  Flashmob “parties” could be arranged spontaneously in addition to the usual town hall/stadium addresses.

Any of the above will require early commitment to the idea and those that commit early will get the best mileage.

Will social media have an impact? Let me know in the comments.





1 Response Comment

  • Mando LopesMay 3, 2011 at 5:48 pm

    Good write up as usual Ryan. I think social media if used correctly can have an impact. Dictators have been overthrown through protest mobilized through social media. It can work


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