How Cyril Ramaphosa’s Twitter account rose with his political status

cyril ramaphosa jacob zuma twitter social media governmentza flickr
President Cyril Ramaphosa paid tribute on Tuesday 20 February 2018 to President Jacob Zuma for his contribution to South Africa’s development during his nine years in office. President Ramaphosa hosted a farewell cocktail function for President Zuma at The Presidency, Tuynhuys, Cape Town. The occasion was attended by members of Cabinet, Deputy Ministers and Presidency officials. President Zuma wished President Ramaphosa well and expressed his gratitude to Presidency staff for service to the President and the country. President Zuma called on Presidency staff to work diligently in supporting President Ramaphosa and helping South Africa to succeed. 20/02/2018 Kopano Tlape, GCIS

On 15 December 2017, then-Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa had 19 600 Twitter followers. Two months later, and bearing the shiny new title of ANC President and South African President, that number increased to 106 000.

It’s a remarkable rise for Ramaphosa as a politician and as a social media personality. And for South Africans, it’s a breath of fresh air to have a President with a social media presence.

While Jacob Zuma did have a personal Twitter account (@SAPresident has since been deleted from the social network) he last posted an update in 2013.

Ramaphosa’s account came into being on January 2015. He also has an unverified Instagram account and a knack for photobombing citizens’ selfies in Sea Point and Gugulethu. But Twitter is the social network that carries the bulk of South Africa’s political discourse and he’s been much more active on this channel than his predecessor.

According to data from analytics firm SocialBlade, the new South African president has posted more than 350 updates within the past 30 days, or roughly a third of all his tweets. It’s also an average of about 12 tweets per day.

Cyril Ramaphosa’s Twitter is growing faster than the accounts of Malema, Maimane and ‘Minister of Social Media’ Mbalula

But he doesn’t post one update every two hours. Instead, Ramaphosa’s Twitter usage is staggered, erratic and what some social media managers would deem not engineered for growth.

During SONA 2018 on 16 February, he (or rather, the team that manages his account) posted 170 updates, many of which were retweets from the official South African Government account @GovernmentZA‘s livetweet session.

Two of Ramaphosa’s more important social media moments were also, rather disappointingly, captured in others’ words.

His announcement of his title as Acting President of South Africa, after Jacob Zuma’s resignation:

And his inauguration as the 5th President of South Africa, this time a retweet of @ParliamentofRSA:

These may be Ramaphosa’s only blips in his attempts to identify as an individual of the people, rather than a distant political figure. Simply retweeting another account creates a disconnect, but carefully crafted personal tweets can be powerful tools.

Global politicians have used tweets at important moments to reach a vast number of people, and remain in the internet’s collective consciousness.

Of Twitter’s 30 most favourited tweets ever, more than two-thirds were posted by politicians, and a vast number of those by former US President Barack Obama. Interestingly, just six of Twitter’s 30 most retweeted posts were created by politicians.

But while retweets form a large chunk of Ramaphosa’s Twitter narrative, he does post original tweets. But even they come in bursts.

At the end of the 2018 ANC National Conference in December 2017, Ramaphosa broke into a 66-tweet long thread detailing his feelings as the new president of the party.

“This for me is a deeply humbling moment – for the first time to be given an opportunity to address the closing session of the 54th National Conference of our beloved movement, the ANC,” he began.

Earlier this month, a nine-tweet long thread can be found addressing South Africans regarding the future of Jacob Zuma.

“Last night, President Zuma and I began direct discussions on the transition and matters relating to his position as the President of the Republic. The discussions were constructive & lay the basis for a speedy resolution of the matter in the interests of the country & its people,” he tweeted on 7 February.

And a 77-tweet long thread celebrating the centenary of Nelson Mandela and Albertina Sisulu was posted four days later.

However erratic his tweeting behaviour, it’s not deterring followers.

In fact, Ramaphosa has steadily gained new eyes since the ANC Conference, trending upwards alongside his political ascension. In particular, there are three notable spikes within the period between December 2017 and 20 February 2018.

He gained more than 15 000 followers on the final day of the Conference alone. An additional 8200 hit the follow button after he made mention of those controversial but “constructive” talks with Jacob Zuma. And finally, on SONA 2018 day, Ramaphosa gained an additional 17 400 followers.

But that’s not all.

The day prior to his maiden address, more than 8000 new followers were recorded and a further 24 800 boarded his account in the three days following SONA 2018.

Cyril Ramaphosa has steadily gained new eyes since the 54th ANC National Conference, trending upwards alongside his political ascension

In total, Ramaphosa has gained more than 83 000 followers within the past 30 days alone, pushing the grand tally to 153 000 at the time of writing.

Even so, his account is dwarfed by his political contemporaries, more versed in the 280 character-long world of Twitter.

Western Cape Premier Helen Zille has over 1.2-million followers. EFF leader Julius Malema has 1.83-million. DA leader Mmusi Maimane has 840 000. And Minister of Police Fikile Mbalula, known for his spicy meme-filled banter, has 1.3-million followers on the social network.

But with an average follower gain of 2600 per day, Cyril Ramaphosa’s account is at present outpacing them all. Only Malema’s account, with a daily growth rate of 2100, is able to come close to Ramaphosa’s growth rate.

And who knows? At this tempo, Cyril Ramaphosa’s Twitter account could be nipping at the heels of his 2019 General Elections rival Maimane in less than a year.

Even so, the President of South Africa is by no means the President of South Africa’s Twitterscape. This honour still belongs to the likes of Trevor Noah (8.65-million followers), AB de Villiers (5.62-million) and Bonang Mathemba (2.62-million).

Note: All SocialBlade and Twitter data used above was correct as of 20 February 2018

Feature image: Former South African President Jacob Zuma (left), and 5th South African President Cyril Ramaphosa by GovernmentZA via Flickr (CC 2.0 BY-ND)

Andy Walker, former editor


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