As South Africa gears up for the general elections that will mark 20 years of democracy, the Democratic Alliance is the clear winner – in the digital stakes that is. But the party emerged with an average D+.
Strategy Worx has analysed how South Africa’s major political parties – the ANC, DA, Cope, IFP and Agang – fare online using its Online Synergy Audit tool. The analysis is based on websites and social media pages. The result was that the DA came out on top with an overall score of 58%, followed by Agang with 52%, the ANC with 46%, Cope with 35% (still a pass in SA terms) and the IFP with a epic fail at 21%.
“Only two parties scored a ‘university pass’ with overall scores of higher than 50%, two received a ‘matric pass’ with a score of between 30% and 50% and one failed miserably with a score of 21%,” says CEO Steven Ambrose. “The scores showed all the parties fell well short of online best practice, and it is clear that none of the political parties effectively use the online environment to communicate with their intended audience.”
Strategy Worx analysts used the tool to analyse the parties’ websites from a content and usability perspective, as well as their social media activity. For reference and perspective, the sites were also compared to the websites they had live at the previous general elections. The US Democratic Party’s website was also used as a reference benchmark, and the strategy and content section was then given a 20% additional weighting because of its importance to effective online presence, and because basic usability and interface design has become fairly easy to implement online.
The findings revealed all the political parties essentially lack coherent online strategies, as well as an integrated mobile strategy and have a critically poor grasp of the synergy between social media platforms, websites and organisational communication strategy. This was clearly highlighted by the low overall scores, Ambrose says.
South African political parties have failed to understand that simple placement of events, speeches, manifestos, and offline information, does not constitute good online practice, Ambrose says.
“Communicating and engaging with your audience online – be it with customers, members of a NGO, or citizens of a country – is clearly critical to any organisation. Much of the world has long gone online via the traditional web, and now increasingly via mobile platforms. Africa is fast catching up with this trend, though the focus is on mobile. Reaching out to and conversing with people via the various current and future online platforms will become the deciding factor in the continued success or failure of any organisation,” he says.
“Online communication across computers and smart devices will play an increasing role in politics and business in South Africa going forward. The election in 2014 may not be won or lost due to the various parties’ online presence, but by 2019, political parties’ online presence, and behaviour, may well be the deciding factor in the election results,” Ambrose reckons.
Ambrose says Agang, as the newest party, appears to have the best understanding of the online environment, with their score being hindered by fundamental usability and strategic content issues, which impact on their ability to effectively communicate online. The design, layout and content, reflect a coherent approach to online, with support from a YouTube channel and social media platforms integrating well with other online activity.
“The DA firmly edged out the second placed Agang, due to the DA’s extensive use of social media and its comprehensive presence across the web. The DA has numerous secondary websites focusing on regional areas and even individual sites for certain party leaders. The party’s use of Twitter, Facebook and other social media properties was generally consistent and appropriate,” Ambrose says.
The ANC use their online presence as a broadcast medium, which reflects a fundamental misunderstanding and misuse of the online medium, Ambrose says. The ANC website lacks strategic intent, and does not clarify who its intended audience is, nor does the website make any effort to engage with its constituency. Basic usability missteps, and key strategic content challenges detracted from the usefulness and usability of the main site and a user would have to resort to searching using a site like Google to piece together information on the party.
COPE appear to be caught in a time warp, with their website acting more as a place holder for party propaganda and news releases than anything else, Ambrose says. Little has changed on the site since the last election. Their use of social media platforms is limited and stilted and there is little understanding or focus on interaction and engagement with members or prospective members.
The online failure of the year was the IFP, Ambrose says. “Their site is absolutely archaic, devoid of any online leading or even currently acceptable practice. The overall look is so completely out of sync with the modern web that is it jarring and confusing.” The site, as it stands, is seriously damaging to the brand, and given the availability of free online tools like WordPress, it is clear that no effort has been made to effectively position the party online. To minimise the negative impact of the current site the IFP should remove the site and start again.