South Africa: The Democratic Alliance and Politics 2.0

Several political parties and politicians in Africa understand the importance of using social media tools to engage with citizens and party members. Today we are looking at the Democratic Alliance, South Africa's Official Opposition and its leader, Western Cape Premier Helen Zille.

The Democratic Alliance officially launched its social media strategy in February 2009, which includes two interactive websites, online advertising and marketing, SMS communication, mobile web access and engagement with voters via social networking and in the blogosphere.

The DA has a social media campaign site, official site and a mobile site.

The party has a Twitter page with latest news feed posted on its website. The party has 1,370 followers.

DA's latest tweets:

Department's R126-million debt threatens to halt printing of all passports 18 minutes ago via twitterfeed 

Limpopo premier agrees that teaching should be declared an essential service. Does the national minister agree? 18 minutes ago via twitterfeed 

Corruption thrives in tenders under R200 000 19 minutes ago via twitterfeed 

Transport Department's R76-million conference splurge – enormous wasteful expenditure includes R12-million on VIP … about 4 hours ago via twitterfeed 

Eskom refuses to explain preferential tariff rates – is this Chancellor House all over again? about 4 hours ago via twitterfeed 

SAA fails to appear before Parliament, after Operations Manager is thrown off SAA flight about 5 hours ago via twitterfeed 

DA welcomes Mtimkulu's suspension about 5 hours ago via twitterfeed 

DCS: satellite tracking devices only way to reliable alternative sentencing about 5 hours ago via twitterfeed

Its leader Helen Zille has a Twitter page and a Facebook account.

Below is one of latest messages from Zille's Facebook page:

As the elected President of our Republic, Jacob Zuma needs to accept that his behaviour will be held up for public scrutiny. If he doesn’t like this, he is free to resign. Elected leaders must be held to account. If their actions contradict their stated public positions (not to mention their government’s policies) they must answer for that.

And comments from South African citizens:

Anna Van Vuuren What sort of an example is Mr Z displaying to our youth? It will just lead them all to hospital with HIV and AIDS!!!!!!
February 9 at 1:22am

Mike Immelman He might be doing us a favour. We'll just have to bring our own children up the right way.
February 9 at 2:58am

Tom Parkin Jacob Zuma needs to step down.
February 9 at 12:08pm

Linda van der Westhuizen With a colourful nation like this who can go wrong with a Zuma on the ladder…….
February 9 at 10:50pm

Ruth Heynsthomas Coley AMEN! He has become an embarresment to our people!
February 10 at 12:43am

Amy Glynn Bailey I couldnt agree more after all if our president cant set an example how can we xpect the youth to know the difference between right and wrong!!!!!!!
February 10 at 2:21am

February 10 at 2:44am

In 207 Helen joined Zoopy in order to connect with voters using photo and video clips covering current issues. The last time she posted content on the site is one year ago.

Zoopy is South Africa's “YouTube”, which allows anyone to sign up and create their own video and photo webpage.

What do South African bloggers think of the DA's use of social media tools?

Mathew Buckland reviewed DA's social media strategy in a post titled, “SA Political Party Launches Impressive, Obamaesque Campaign Site”:

So back to the DA site. The DA’s site has the same silky, blue tones as Obama. The navigation and look and feel is professional and clear. The “Contribute to Change” not only sounds like Obama, but looks like it was almost taken from his site (similar design, font). (I know he’s an inspirational character, but do we have to rip off his site? What about some Africa theming — why are we even using the same US presidential font?)
Packed with social media functionality
The functionality is innovative and clever, and it’s a good job. The DA site allows you to do a couple of things:
▪ Donate: Supporters can donate online in much the same way they could on Obama’s site. Pity they never advertised a premium SMS shortcode number with the credit card payment option that they have. Micropayments via SMS are key revenue spinners on the web because they’re so easy to do. Credit cards are a pain, but most importantly for these elections — not everyone has got ‘em.
▪ Blogs: Users can sign up for a DA blog, and begin writing and campaigning.
▪ Social network: There’s functionality allowing users to build a social network and recruit friends, although the main option encourages users to enter their friend email addresses manually. The second option allows users to upload their contact lists, although I can see many users getting stuck as it really does not have enough explanation or is clear about the format. The site, critically, does not allow contact or social network mining — which allows you to add your contacts and build a social network effortlessly and dynamically. In this busy information-laden world, users don’t use functionality that takes a great deal of effort or too many steps.

Walter Pike's critique of the DA social media strategy, “Does the DA get Social Media?”:

Are the Democratic Alliance doing a copy paste of the Obama campaign and using it as their election strategy? Well I don’t know yet, it just seems to me that they may be. If this is what it is about then I think they may have missed the boat. Social media and social media tools are not ends in themselves. They are tools that can be used in marketing and building a brand and propagating an idea.
The biggest misconception that the casual observer may have of the Obama campaign was that it was merely the digital approach that did it.

Another South African blogger Justin Hartman who was invited to the launching of DA social media strategy wrote:

Both the new DA and Contribute to Change websites are built off open source technology, specifically WordPress, BBPress and BuddyPress, and it's great to see the use of open source to drive the DA's campaign.

I have to commend the DA, its web development team and the guys running the social media strategy behind the scenes on a job well done. I'm only worried that the Contribute to Change website is a little too advanced for a South African audience but only time will tell.

Nic Haralambous noted that democracy in South Africa “is more important than proper use of Facebook, social tools and multimedia”:

Many people have covered, blogged and written about the DA and what they are doing online. It’s quite interesting to me that there isn’t much hype, noise or talk around the other political parties. Yet the DA is getting it in the neck. It’s like we, the online community, are berating one of the few political parties who bothered to actually make an effort. Why are we not giving the other parties hell as openly as the DA? Why does it matter? Surely our countries democracy is more important than proper use of Facebook, social tools and multimedia?
I am interested to know how much money has been put in to the DA’s social media campaign and what sort of return of investment they have and will receive? I wonder if in our country that money could not be better used somewhere else? Marketing the DA differently to a wider audience? Because let me tell you, if we all praise and hail the DA as the online guru’s in politics but they get trumped in the election then I will feel betrayed by social media and so will they.

Moral Fiber wondered whether the DA is utilizing social media “merely as an advertising channel through which they can disseminate party information.”

In the same post Moral Fiber complained about Helen Zille ignoring her Twitter followers, “Shouting down from your ivory tower at us lesser beings merely makes us more likely to keep you locked up in there and never let you out. Ever. Never ever.”:

For instance online @helenzille is challenged often on twitter, “she” hardly ever responds to critique.  Helen you simply cannot expect your listeners online to respond to your tweets which read more like the misfiring of Zuma’s iconic machine gun than they do an open dialogue. I, the representative of all things social media (a guru if you will), implore you to utilize a different tone to that which you utilize when giving a speech before your obviously inept parliamentarians. Social media snaps that vertical pillar upon which political hierarchies are built, you are meant to sound like the everyman and everywoman: utilize colloquialisms, throw in a witty anecdote, respond to critique, open up your party policies to debate and source wisdom from the crowd following you. Shouting down from your ivory tower at us lesser beings merely makes us more likely to keep you locked up in there and never let you out. Ever. Never ever.

We hope that social media tools will ultimately enrich democracy and political processes on the continent.

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