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I had high hopes for SA’s political parties and their use of the web. In an interview with Sapa on IOL my colleagues didn’t share my optimism. In an Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) presentation in Pretoria this year, I urged political parties to take online seriously and demonstrated the Barack Obama website’s innovative use of social media (that was before Obamamania had set in).
The reason I had high hopes is that I guessed (1) many local political parties would draw inspiration from the Obama site and look to emulate at least a portion of what has been the world’s leading online political campaign; and (2) parties would be looking for any edge, online, mobile and real-world, in what looks to be the most competitive election in our history.
Of all the political parties, I was keen in particularly keen in seeing what the Democratic Alliance (DA) launched with. This is purely because, besides the ID, they seemed to be the party that took the online proposition seriously, eg: with groups on Facebook and a presence on Zoopy. Before their site was hacked, they had a fairly strong website presence. Their nearest competitor was the ID, which has been an early pioneer with SMS/Text campaigning, since elections four years ago. With this in mind, I was interested to see what the DA’s online strategy would be, in tune with their recent image makeover.
And what a disappointment. The DA relaunched, but their online proposition remained stagnant. If the DA’s election campaign and election results are anything like their current online presence, then they’ll flunk these elections. Their website is essentially a badly put together blog. It looks cheap and unprofessional, not befitting what is arguably a substantial political party. They also could be one of the only political parties in the world who use a blog for their main site, when it really should be an adjunct.
What is more: it is badly put together showing inconsistent design — and with the “wordpress.org” links still all over it. There is also no integration of a Social Media presence (ie Facebook groups etc). Just look at Obama, guys — there’s a website to follow. The navigation is cluttered and needs design. The tag cloud is inappropriate for a frontpage corporate web presence. I have no problem with using wordpress as a CMS, but to implement it with the most basic of customisations for what should be a major online presence, I think is a mistake. It’s not a criticism of the current site, but it’s also missing a basic Social Network, which would also signal serious online intent.
An overhaul looks to still be on the cards for the DA and, perhaps, the other political parties? Here’s hoping the ID will continue with their early innovation. Let’s see what the ANC can do with their substantial, but dated, web presence. (They now too have a Facebook presence) Also interesting to see what the new kids on the block, Congress of the People (Cope), come up with. In many ways they are in a good position as they can come at the problem with fresh thinking.
Why online is important for SA politics
Critics like to dismiss these discussions entirely as pointless, pointing to internet penetration issues. I have three responses to this: (1) you ignore the combined penetration of mobile and desktop web at your peril (ie the equivalent of 2 or 3 european countries combined); (2) You never know how influential that online audience may be, and who they in turn may influence; and (3) relative to the actual registered electorate who go out and vote, that penetration is higher.
SA parties by Facebook
|Democratic Alliance||8,732 members|
|Congress of the People||1,123 members* (Already??)|
|African National Congress (ANC)||809 members**|
|Independent Democrats (youth… only?)||159 members|
*Group created a few weeks ago
*Group created about 3-4 months ago