According to Wikipedia, in 2014, India held the largest-ever election in the world. With 814.5 million people eligible to vote, about 23.1 million or 2.7% of them were aged 18–19. The percentage election turnout was 66.38%, the highest ever in the history of Indian general elections.
The Indian press was quick to point out that 2014 was a year when social media played an important role in the country’s elections. About 213 million people are online in India (33 million on Twitter and 100 million on Facebook). Narendra Modi, the current Prime Minister has 4.7 million followers on Twitter alone while the opposition leader, Rahul Gandhi, was not on Twitter during the elections.
Mahima Kaul, a media expert says that although social media did not replace Modi’s traditional grassroots campaign, his “social media war room” which reportedly cost 35,000 GBP and featured 30 computers and about 50 volunteers, crowdsourced important ideas for speeches and media campaigns on social media including videos, jingles, songs and poems. Modi used social media to gauge public opinion during the campaign and more importantly to position himself as the listening candidate with a clear understanding of modern imperatives. In essence, he sent out a powerful message – “this election is not business as usual”.
Back home in Nigeria, I have watched with keen interest the social media ramp up of political parties and candidates (or potential candidates) as we head towards the 2014-15 polls. These are some of my takeaways:
1. Professionals are in high demand: Last year, there was much talk about Atiku Abubakar’s “sudden” burst unto the Nigerian social media scene. Speculations were rife over the identities of the brains behind the campaign. After all, in a relatively short time Atiku managed to get verified on Twitter, a feat previously claimed by only one Nigerian politician at the time, Babatunde Raji Fashola. Reliable sources point to a foreign team aided by Nigerian professionals. You will recall that in 2007, the Jonathan Administration also employed the services of foreign and diaspora based Nigerian professionals.
Unfortunately, as at today, Nigeria does not have any degree programme in social media or a dedicated academy. Many social media professionals are self-taught supplementing their knowledge online. As we head towards the polls in 2014-2015, to remain relevant, these professionals will need to ramp up their efforts and deepen offerings beyond hosting Twitter chats, live town halls or executing promotional campaigns. They will need to develop international level expertise and not remain local champions, or else many of the election’s social media jobs will be geographically outsourced. Remember, Nigerians believe all good things come from “abroad”.
2. Candidacy is now announced online: President Goodluck Jonathan did it in 2011 and a few months ago, information about Akinwunmi Ambode’s intention to run for Lagos State Governor first leaked into the public consciousness when interesting edits were made on his Wikipedia page (a page I am searching for in vain as I write this blog).
3.Technology focused political action committees are emerging – A curious platform named For The Future Nigeria describes itself as a Political Action Committee (PAC) affiliated with the All Progressives Congress (APC). They recently conducted a poll to help the APC decide on its 2015 presidential ticket. Although I am not sure how much influence the group will have on the eventual choice, the development of PACs which support parties with technology and social media tools is highly welcome.
4.Content matters – Nigeria’s digiteratti now have an increasing appetite for information, facts and figures. These are valued over and above unsubstantiated slander against opponents. The platform Ekiti for JKF is doing a great job with supplying information and enhancing brand positioning for Dr. John Kayode Fayemi (JKF), the incumbent Governor of Ekiti State.
Ekiti for JKF runs a graphic-led and positive campaign. Rather than focusing on what other candidates are not, the platform focuses on what its candidate is. It provides information about the candidate’s achievements, cheeky graphics for #ThrowbackThursday and repurposes comments about JKF into graphics. Recently, it introduced 2 new campaigns – a photo submissions campaign titled #iWillVoteJKF Poster Campaign and 30Days | #30Reasons.
Its strategy is working. The user engagement rate for its Facebook page in the last month stands at a whopping 66%. This means 7 out of every 10 followers are talking about the campaign, commenting or sharing the platform’s materials. In a previous , I explained the value of user engagement over followership numbers on social media.
Ekiti for JKF proves that Nigerians respond well to facts & figures and useful relevant information. The popularity of BudgIT (a platform that presents the Nigerian budget in digestible bites) also underscores this. Surely, we need to continue to elevate our election conversations and give the electorate more credit for intellect.
5. Creativity is crucial: Electioneering on social media will demand continuous innovation to capture the imagination of Nigerians. Our love for entertainment and parody is evidenced by the recent “#DiaRisGod” meme. On the election front, we hope to see many moments reminiscent of US election classics like “Horses and Bayonets” and “Binders Full of Women”.
Social media teams must be savvy enough to cash in on such moments when they come.
6. Mobile becomes the social battle ground: The Nigerian Communications Commission reports that telephone penetration in Nigeria is at 92%. Correcting for multiple handset ownership in urban areas, the data still shows that more people have access to mobile phones in Nigeria than potable water. Telephones allow for direct and customised distribution of information and campaign material. Cameras and recording devices allow for widespread election monitoring and reporting of results.
7. Control of Internet access becomes political: Civil Society Organisations involved in election monitoring will need to plan ahead for alternative internet access that does not rely on national infrastructure. Governments have shown that they have the power to flip the switch on internet access by shutting down mobile access or by withdrawing Border Gateway Protocol routes.
In 2014-2015, as elections in Nigeria kick off, I would like to see a delightful array of social media cutting across languages, formats and content. Google Trends reports that over the last decade online search around elections in Nigeria has been concentrated in 3 States: Rivers (with the highest interest level of 100), Abuja (47) and Lagos (35). I would like to see massive online and mobile engagement in many other states. I would also like to see strategic social media campaigns, deliberate messaging and robust offline mobilisation efforts driven by online tools.
Above all, I would like to see the best men and women elected.