How political parties can use mobile and social media to reach voters

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A political election is much like a marketing campaign showdown, and the team with the best product usually sways the biggest audience. Look at Barack Obama in his first campaign — cited as the most successful “new marketer” in history for his ground-breaking use of online and social media to reach out to potential supporters.

Finding the triggers to a nation’s touchpoints — what policy matters to them, how they need to hear information and how best to get them this information — is key to informing the people about their choices.

More than anything, Obama’s campaign showed that online and social media could no longer be ignored. That’s in a heavily wired country like the US, with plenty of access to technology. But does the same ring true in emerging market countries?

One emerging market country that could show demonstrate the viability of a tech-driven campaign is Kenya.

While TV and radio are still the preferred way for people to receive political information in the East-African country, mobile is catching up fast. In fact, according to recent research released by InMobi, 33% of Kenyans prefer receiving messages via TV, with 20% preferring to hear their news via the radio (this is likely to be in the form of news broadcasts).

Make way for mobile

The challenge is that only around 750 000 Kenyan homes actually have a TV, and using these two channels as a mouthpiece can prove costly. This leaves the gap wide open for mobile, which is becoming the preferred method of communication from political parties. In fact, as far as preferred methods of communication go, mobile was just four percent lower than radio at 20%, with just 14% of people preferring newspapers and magazines.

Mobile is a game-changer, something that has radically altered the financial landscape in Kenya, so why not the political landscape as well? People want information – they want clear, concise messaging and they want it regularly. A survey done following Obama’s campaign asked people what one word they would think of when they heard his name: the word ‘change’ was mentioned by the majority of the people surveyed. And Kenyans are looking for this information, in fact — 46% of the people surveyed said that they would welcome daily information from the party of their choice.

Then begs the question: if you accept mobile as the most effective way to reach people, and you know how to do this, what are the kind of things they need to hear that are going to push those triggers we mentioned? 75% of Kenyans want to know about party policy, closely followed by 74% who were interested in the key issues that would be addressed by the party. Interestingly, 58% were even interested in receiving party memorabilia such as wallpaper for their phones — it’s difficult to imagine a more effective marketing tool than being on the face of hundreds of mobile phones.

Don’t forget social media

Innovation in the mobile space has extended to social media, and most Kenyans access social media sites via their phones. Effective campaigns need to deliver information to people online as a primary tool, not an afterthought. Citizen journalism also can’t be ignored, and the power of their messages over social media. The bottom line is that friends trust friends, and Kenyans across income brackets are influenced by their friends’ political views. Fifty-two percent of those asked said they were strongly or moderately influenced by their friends’ views.

Likewise, mobile integration into a campaign and establishing an interactive tool to reach people can gauge their concerns. High on the Kenyan agenda are employment instability, corruption, lack of economic prosperity, poor education infrastructure and concerns about healthcare.

That said, Kenyans at the lower end of the income bracket are surprisingly optimistic about the future of the country with 72% of respondents of the opinion that the situation will improve. Higher earners, or those who earn over KS10 000 per month, were on the fence, with 24% believing the situation would radically improve and a similar 23% thinking it would get worse.

With only 10% of voters looking to vote the same way as they did last year, Kenya’s political future is certainly one to watch leading up to next year’s elections.

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