6 Reasons why being social media savvy must become a prerequisite for political appointees
The first time I took interest in the social media profile of Dr Zamani Saul – the current Premier of the Northern Cape Province in South Africa, was when this tweet was brought to my attention:
The tweet above was published just after the new and returning Provincial Premiers had been appointed post the latest round of South African national elections, which the ANC won.
- 🤔 So why did the new Premier Dr Zamani Saul not just send an internal memo to his MECs and administrators of the relevant provincial departments with the directive above and leave it there?
- 🤔Why did the Dr choose to make a public statement, using one of the most effective channels for achieving the highest possible reach beyond his Province?
- 🤔Was this statement meant to spark a national debate rather?
My impression is that Dr Zamani Saul understands how the power of social media.
Here are the resulting engagement stats of the tweet:
It is my view that switched-on South Africans must have wondered if the publishing of Dr Zamni Saul’s directive on Twitter did not signal the new era of social media driven politics. I am certain that it did.
Time to explore whether all the new and returning Premiers embrace this new era.
How are the Provincial Premiers fairing on social media?
I analysed social media presence of our current Premiers across the 9 South African Provinces. For this purpose, I compared numbers of followers of each of them across the 3 main social networks – Facebook (FB), Instagram (IG) and Twitter (TW).
Here is a table that shows the results of the political appointees who occupy the highest office in each of the 9 provinces:
|Dr Zamani |
|N/A||N/A||408||Very low |
|Limpopo||909||N/A||6,626||2 TW |
Both are currently
|N/A||N/A||N/A||Has personal |
FB a/c only
|Mpumalanga||173||N/A||N/A||FB page |
in June 26,
Political parties that the 9 Premiers come from is not a factor in this post. Thus, I excluded it from my analysis.
Findings and insights:
- 🔎 Overall, all the Premiers have some form of social media presence, but levels of strength differ.
- 🔎 Instagram is the least subscribed social network of the 3.
- 🔎 Based strictly on aggregated number of followers:
- 🔎 The top 3 Premiers are David Makhura, Sihle Zikalala and Dr Zamani Saul, in that order.
- 🔎 The bottom 3 Premiers are Sefora Ntombela, Refilwe Mtsweni and Professor Job Mokgoro.
- 🔎 It is to be noted that Stanley Mathabatha may have more Twitter followers than Prof Mokgoro, but both his handles have been dormant, while the latter’s handle has some level of activity that has predominantly been the retweeting of other Twitterers’ posts.
- 🔎 Only Zikala, Makhura and Mabuyane have accounts across all the 3 social networks under review, and all the accounts are active. This may point to the 3 Premiers’ highest appreciation for the power of social media, and thus the need to be in the many spaces where their voters are.
Next, I compared interactions to published posts by Dr Zamani Saul and the other social media savvy Premiers.
Of the 9 Premiers in office, I found that only 5 are on top of their social media game. Here is a comparative analysis of levels of engagement the top 5’s tweets received:
One key observation from the Twitter Engagement graph above is that Dr Zamani Saul’s followers were most engaged during the period under review, as measured by Engagement Rate that measures the extent to which one’s followers are engaged.
The Northern Cape Premier’s tweet with the highest Engagement Rate was this one:
I am not surprised about the top tweet’s performance. Warm fuzzy content always pulls at the heart strings of social netizens.
Dr Zamani Saul seems to be rooted in strong family values, hence his Twitter account’s header banner at the time of publishing this post is a picture of what looks like his nucleus family.
While the period under review is too short to be used as an indication of a more common engagement trend for the Premiers, it suffices given the title of this blog.
Here are the 6 reasons why it must become a prerequisite for political appointees to be social media savvy
The local government level is where the political rubber hits the road. The true strength of a political party is tested at this government level, not at a national level. Voting trends of national elections are not a good predictor of local elections in South Africa, where the characteristic of coalition politics is becoming the order of the day. The different voting patterns were more glaring between the 2014 national elections and 2016 local elections.
Local governments report to District governments, which in turn report to Provincial governments. Premiers play a significant role in supporting local governments, including with efforts to canvas for votes during the elections.
And now to the reasons.
1. The proof of the pudding is in eating it.
Social media has become a necessary evil for effective communications for all brands. Politics is not an exception. South Africans share a lot of the inconvenient truths here, and public office bearers need to hear them, or risk losing the votes.
In line with “the pudding” English idiom, I argue that Premiers cannot sufficiently, at best, advocate for the importance of social media if they themselves are not competent in its usage. They need first hand experience of this channel’s value. Dr Zamani Saul and the other top 4 social media savvy Premiers provide proof to the other 4 incompetent Premiers that it can be done.
2. South African youth are on social media.
A friend who is the Senior Communicator in one of the Provinces said this to me recently:
According to the latest Digital Report 2019, the age profile of South African social media audience looks like:
In South African terms, the age group for youth is between 18 and 34 years old.
Clearly, Premiers need to be on social media if they want to connect with this age group. In the same way that they [Premiers] preside over some of the town hall meetings, they cannot outsource talking to the youth constituency on social media.
3. South African youth are not voting.
Results of the 2019 South African national elections show that many eligible youths did not register to vote.
It is to be noted that some of the millennials will be middle aged citizens during the 2021 local elections. If the habit of not voting becomes the culture, then the politics of South Africa is facing a dire future.
Dare I say, the responsibility of encouraging youth to vote should not the sole responsibility of the IEC, which is currently the case. Political parties, and by extension the Provincial Heads, have a role to play. It starts with engaging them where they are – on social media. Not where it suits the politicians. Not only during the elections. But on an ongoing basis.
4. Social proof is the social media currency.
Studies show that social netizens listen to friends, family and even fools; ahead of brands – the last group being my favourite 😎. This is no different for political brands.
To get around this challenge, brands resort to being represented by humans as the main option. Hopefully, these representatives will have the necessary credentials, as authenticity is a big issue with the netizens.
Let me build on this point.
Premiers are themselves family, friends and fools (sometimes 🤫). They are the human faces of their political party brands. Thus, they are better placed to appeal to the electorate in their personal capacities. And the more human, and by implication less robotic, the better. Do not forget the authenticity part.
5. Reach and Engagement – the bread and butter of politics.
As argued in the first section of this post, Dr Zamani Saul’s publishing of his tweet about pictures of political heads on local government office walls was not intended only for his MECs and administrators in his Province of the Northern Cape. He intended to drive the message at a national level, and his appreciation for the best channel to achieve this got my, and certainly other people’s, attention. This is called reach.
The stink that erupted on social media involving uMama Mtsweni in January this year while she was out canvassing for votes during the run-up to the May national elections makes for a perfect example of voter engagement.
All the political heavyweights get involved in the door-to-door political canvassing – an old tradition that is most prevalent during elections. So why do they [the politicians] not do the one-on-one canvassing, alternatively called engagement, on social media too?
6. Advocacy is gold for political parties.
Social media provides the best platform to test if any brand has committed followers, alternatively called advocates. This is measured by the strength of positive share of voice of those that support a brand. Hopefully, the voices are unsolicited, raw and real emotions coming directly from the advocates themselves. The ability to measure advocacy most accurately and realtime is what makes this communication channel unique, versus most of the other communication channels.
Advocacy is a critical instrument for political parties, which rely heavily on the rank-and-file that support them to spread their gospel far and wide.
If Premiers are not competent in the use of this medium, they will not have the appreciation for developing advocacy that will benefit their political parties, and ultimately their own political careers.
On a closing note
2021 local elections are less than 24 months away.
I hope Prof Mokgoro, Rre Matrhabatha, uMama Mtsweni and Ntate Ntombela take my advise to heart and get on with improving their social media skills as a matter of urgency.
I am also hoping that Bab’ Sihle, Ntate Makhura, Rre Saul, Tata Mabuyane and Mr Winde ensure their social media skills are transferred to the other political appointees and administrators in their respective Provinces.