How is Jacob Zuma mixing it on social networks?

Blog post by: Bra Willy Seyama, founder & CEO of eNitiate

Writing this post was like putting together a hot 12-track music album. The exciting thing is there was plenty of material to choose from, but I needed to ensure a winning combination of smash hits for airplay, billboard charts and sales on one hand; and classics that will ensure longevity of the album on the other hand. An enviable position to be in, I reckon.

Well, this is the SAMA weekend in ZA. Thus, it is appropriate to start on a musical note, if you know what I mean.



I am fascinated by the growing liking the South African President, Mr Jacob Zuma, is taking to Twitter. I have been closely following him for the past 12 days, and analyzing the content and frequency of his tweets. My verdict is that he is doing well so far. The challenge is whether he will sustain the momentum. As they say, time will tell.

As it will become clear to you, one of the key questions has been whether he writes his own tweets like other political figures who I took interest in, and whose Twitter statistics are included in this post.

See if you can spot the difference between the following two tweets by him:


SAPresident Jacob G. Zuma
 This is good for our is also a good way to defend our freedom!Prez Zuma.
20 May
SAPresident Jacob G. Zuma
 #SApolls I will vote in Nkandla at 11am. Always a liberating experience! #LGE2011
18 May

Spot the difference? Here is a clue. One of the tweets is ID’d :-|.

I am tempted to agree with Justice Malala that we need to have elections more often. This momentous event seems to be encouraging politicians to adopt desirable behaviors.



SA-Municipal-Elections 2011
SA-Municipal-Elections 2011

It is 9:30 a.m. on May 19th. Voting stations for 2011 Local Government Elections (LGE) closed less than 24 hours ago. SABC radio news announces that close to 50% of the votes have been counted in the 278 municipalities across the country. Just over a quarter of the votes have been declared and ANC is leading with 60%. I join the national chorus in applauding the IEC for a sterling performance.

While LGE is not the subject of this post, it had a lot to do with JZ’s (@SAPresident) decision to become active on Twitter from the 10th of May, judging by the content of his 8 tweets thus far. The phrase “better late than never”, is appropriate in this case.



In my Poll that was a prelude to this post, the question I wanted to start with was whether JZ should be on social networks at all. But I subsequently dropped it as I felt it was redundant, because the President had already posted his first tweet that created a buzz across the country by then.

The rationale for the withdrawn question above was informed by my observation on how JZ, or his office, has been leveraging Facebook (FB) thus far (@The Presidency of the Republic of South Africa). The approach has been to use this social network platform as an “electronic billboard” – see my description in the insert below – and the President is not connecting with his 10 649 FB fans as indicated by the many comments on @The Presidency’s wall. This is a major under-utilisation of an otherwise powerful communication medium on JZ’s part.

How brands leverage Facebook

Just so you know, I have looked at 3 different accounts linked to JZ on FB, and all of them use a similar communication style.

As the insert above shows, the 4 brands – SA Presidency, Barak Obama, AM Live on SAFM and YFM – use various ways to leverage FB. I used this analysis in my presentation to the South African Government Communications and Information System (GCIS) earlier this year, arguing that JZ’s character is embracing and personable – all the people who have met the President will tell you that he makes you feel comfortable in his presence, allowing you to be “on the level” with him – and that his FB posts make him come across as impersonal (alternative word is aloof, and it is mostly associated with former President Thabo Mbeki).

While his style of communication is better on Twitter, some of JZ’s followers wish he could respond to their direct messages and retweets. Others are wondering whether he even knows how to access Twitter, suspecting that it is his office staff who do it all. You be the judge.

Let us compare Twitter statistics of selected key political figures as at 19 May 2011, to see how JZ is doing:

<img src="Comparative_Twitter_Statistics_For_Selected_Heads_for_States_19_May_2011.png" alt="Comparative Twitter Statistics for Selected Heads of States on 19 May 2011">

To the best of my knowledge, the statistics in the table above come from correct accounts of the selected names. Choice of the heads of state in the table (with the exception of Helen Zille) was based on a combination of the following factors – active Twitter accounts, population sizes relative to South Africa within the continent, and sheer curiosity (Obama, Cameron , Jonathan and Mugabe). Comparable countries in Northern Africa were left out due to the current civil unrest and abrupt leadership changes. I found that a good number of the statesmen in the table tweet themselves and respond to some of their followers individually.

A lot can be read from the Twitter table when the various statistics are compared. Despite JZ being Johnny-Come-Lately on Twitter, his following puts him at the 3rd spot. If the current rate of growth continues (averaging 1 500 new followers per day), then his following will eclipse Helen Zille’s in the not-too distant future.

The one key finding is that South African politicians have healthy fan base and Twitter following, and the associated take-out is that this is great for future multi-platform communications and canvassing. I am now convinced that JZ’s future communication strategy will always include social media, given the immediacy and instant response that he is experiencing on both FB and Twitter.

A dipstick online poll was conducted to get a sense for how JZ’s Twitter followers would like to interact with him on this platform.



Online pollFirst, a quick background. Poll was published on the 11th of May and closed on the 19th at midday. The exercise was only meant to provide indicative insights. Prospective participants were randomly invited by email and on social networks, and there was no consideration for demographics. 121 people viewed the poll, and the main source of traffic was Facebook. Over 30 people answered the 6 questions in it. You can make up your own mind why there was only 25% participation. In hindsight, I should have assured prospective participants that their identities were protected and would not be shared with anyone. I suspect this would have increased the participation numbers? However, this is my 4th online poll since 2009, and 30 has become my magic participation number. I am happy I achieved it with this poll.

And now about poll and insights:

Question 1 – About following JZ on Twitter. Just under 15% of participants were already following him, and over 50% were planning to do so. As an indication, this explains why the President’s following has been growing consistently until now. Interestingly, 20% indicated they were not going to follow him. This should be expected in a democracy. One particular participant indicated that JZ should not waste time on Twitter but focus on growing employment.

Question 2 – About leveraging Twitter. A 3rd of the participants thought JZ will become more accessible this way. This emphasizes a point made earlier, that ordinary South Africans want to relate with the President as an individual. And they hope his being on Twitter will make this possible to some extent.

Question 3 – About other social networks. As can be expected, the overwhelming majority of participants would like JZ to be active on Facebook as well. This is already happening mainly under @The Presidency of the Republic of South Africa FB account.

Question 4 – About frequency of use. Close to 70% of the participants felt JZ must use Twitter only when it is necessary. My sense is, there is appreciation for the demands that come with his role and thus no expectation that he will spending too much time on social networks.

Question 5  About key aspects to tweet. While 37% of participants said JZ can tweet on anything he deems important, a 3rd want him to update the nation on progress made in taking the country in the right direction.

Question 6 – About aspects not to tweet. Participants were clear about what they are not interested to hear from JZ – 43% said NO to his personal life, and 29% said NO to using this Twitter account for ANC-party affairs.

I extracted my key insight from responses to the last 3 questions. There is an indication that the President should use Twitter strictly for government business relating to improvement of citizens’ lives, not party-political and personal affairs. Participants want to hear from him when there is something substantial to communicate, and they want him to use his Twitter account to uplift their hopes about the future of this country. Further analysis that included tracking of tweets and retweets relating to JZ’s search, lead me to the conclusion that the chosen Twitter name for his account, @SAPresident, has a lot to do with the expectation that he must use the platform only in communicating affairs relating to the national office.

Analysis of JZ’s last 8 tweets indicate that there is a disconnect between their dominant theme, which has been about canvassing for ANC votes for LGE 2011, and my key finding above. The mixing of government and party affairs on the part of JZ is caused by wearing of two hats – SA President and ANC President. As JZ may or may not know, social networkers are highly cynical and opinionated. They have picked up on this mixing of roles already and will question his social networking credibility as a result.



  • “There is a desire by South African citizens on social networks to relate to you as an individual. You already have a warm and welcoming personality. Just extend it by “connecting” with your FB fans and Twitter followers. This, I argue,  will make your job of keeping your ear on the ground a lot easier. Also, remember that social networkers tend to be thought leaders and influencers in the society. If you keep track of what they say and do, this can help you anticipate future trends at the bottom end of the social pyramid. There are plenty of tools in the market to assist you in making sense of the social hot topic trends generally and specifically relating to you. This will help you to interact on these platforms more effectively. Unlike it is made out to be,  social networking does not take a lot of time if managed properly, and it can be done as part of “killing” time.
  • You are in a predicament due to your dual presidential role in government and in the ANC. You are mixing the two roles on Twitter at the moment and this is not a good idea. While ANC is the majority party in South Africa, you also have a duty to reach out to all South Africans in your role as the first citizen of the country. It is my view that you need to keep the two roles distinctly separate on social networks, and this will help your followers know what capacity they are interacting with you in. Now that you already have @SAPresident account on Twitter, I recommend that you open an additional account and link it directly to your ANC role. I admit that this is going to make the job more complex for you, but “it comes with the territory”.



  • Nuffdotty – where thoughts on the subject of education, mostly relating to South Africa, are shared
  • Diski4Life – a blog about development of South African soccer post World Cup 2010


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