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Taking South Africa by 2024 not realistic for opposition parties

Data suggests that the ANC remains the most searched for political party and terms queried shows a sustained thirst for current news on the party.

Published The Citizen, 28 June 2022
By Hein Kaiser & Michélle Venter

Opposition party confidence about removing the ANC form government by 2024 may be putting the cart before the horse.

Digital analyst Michele Venter of Bold Online Marketing said that a mountain of work is required by parties to dent public opinion favourably and influence voters. She said: “Being barkative on social media means nothing when you are not actively marketing your message to your audience effectively. And none of the parties are cracking it.”

Data suggests that the ANC remains the most searched for political party and terms queried shows a sustained thirst for current news on the party. Trailing well behind the ruling party are the Democratic Alliance. ActionSA has dropped off the radar since the elections with a comparative flatline in interest from voters. The EFF, thanks to mainstream media, remains somewhat relevant.

But it’s the mainstream media that dictates the narrative, and parties are losing a grip on their own messaging.

Venter said that interest in ActionSA has dried up after an initial 1200% surge in interest. It’s now naught. She said: “The Democratic Alliance seems to be the only party trying to generate interest in what it has to say outside of social streams, with a proper newsroom, where it posts daily. Yet there’s also a disconnect between message dissemination and gaining new audiences for it.” Venter analyzed major parties and their public performance six and a bit months after last year’s hotly contested elections.

The DA must address some important propaganda issues promptly if it were to make further inroads, suggested Venter. She said that a continued, concerning thread runs through the party’s narrative: “People just don’t know who its leaders are, and while the party may disagree, it’s clear from their digital activity that they are not reaching out to new audiences, but rather preaching to the converted. And that is not how you create future votes.”

Beyond its inevitable scandals that occur with mundane regularity these days, the ANC’s biggest problem is Jacob Zuma, who remains the second most interesting party-related topic after publics seeking general news. The Gauteng 2022 party election and its tripartite alliance follows in search terms while curiously, a growing number of people want to understand whether the ANC is left or right wing.

Venter said: “Voter education is critical to any party planning to make real gains in 2024. Social media lone is not going to do the job. Parties need to remarket, seek out fresh audiences and drive messaging proactively.”

Venter noted: “Right now, nobody’s really educating the public about their policies. It’s all just anti-ANC”.

DA leader John Steenhuisen could have run an immensely successful Ukraine-trip campaign, said Venter, had he simply created an explainer video prior to the trip, shared information on channels other than social media and provided some substance. “Instead,” she said, “his tweets were drops in an ocean of social noise that simply ended up soliciting criticism and ridicule. This could have been a powerful idea, but it was poorly implemented.”

Venter said parties are not creating relevant content for their audiences. She said: “Nobody is pushing a clear agenda. On top of that, the public’s bullshit meter has gone through the roof and there is a clear demand for transparency and consistency in messaging. The public are obsessed with politics rights now, but the parties are not feeding the machine.”

The Phoenix Poster debacle last year remains the DA’s largest search term while the electorate also seems interested in its heritage as well as a lot of queries about what the party stands for. Said Venter: “The party must up the ante in terms of communicating solutions and alternatives as a government in waiting as opposed to simply being the voice of corruption-watching and anti-ANC.”

“It should not still be haunting the party.” Venter said.

The EFF seems to be under the spotlight with searches about its coalitions, and the public checking out its relationship with the ANC. Meanwhile, ActionSA’s role in coalitions also seems of interest, but relative to its low search statistics, they’re really nowhere publicly said Venter.

There are several easy to implement solutions parties can use to change their narrative and compete against mainstream media for message reach and penetration. Opinion pieces, media releases, YouTube shorts, TikTok and other social media. But it should all happen in a sequenced manner. “This is how you beat mainstream media, with a concerted effort to manage the story path,” said Venter.

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