If the 2014 general elections were decided based on the effectiveness of South African political parties’ online presence, the Democratic Alliance would win, although it would only score a D+.
This is the conclusion of a study conducting by Strategy Worx, which has launched an online audit tool to allow organisations to test the effectiveness of their online presence. The company used the tool to test the effectiveness of several political parties’ online presence.
The DA topped the list with 58%, followed by new party Agang SA (52%), the ANC (46%) and the Congress of the People (Cope; 35%). The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP; 21%) came stone last.
“Only two parties scored a ‘university pass’, with overall scores of higher than 50%; two received a ‘matric pass’ with scores of between 30% and 50%; and one failed miserably with a score of 21%,” says Strategy Worx MD Steven Ambrose in a statement.
“The scores showed all the parties fell well short of online best practice, and it is clear that none of the political parties effectively use the online environment to communicate with their intended audience.”
The company analysed parties’ websites from a content and usability perspective as well as their social media activity. For reference and perspective, the sites were also compared to the websites they had live at 2009 general election. The US Democratic Party website was also used as a reference benchmark and the strategy and content section was then given a 20% additional weighting because of its importance to effective online presence, and because basic usability and interface design has become fairly easy to implement online.
Ambrose says newcomer Agang appears to have the best understanding of the online environment, with its score being hindered by “fundamental usability and strategic content issues”. These affected Agang’s ability to communicate effectively online. The design, layout and content, reflect a coherent approach to online, with support from a YouTube channel and social media platforms integrating well with other online activity.
The DA placed first because of its “extensive use of social media and its comprehensive presence across the Web”.
“The DA has numerous secondary websites focusing on regional areas and even individual sites for certain party leaders. The party’s use of Twitter, Facebook and other social media properties was generally consistent and appropriate,” Ambrose says.
The ANC, meanwhile, uses its online presence as a broadcast medium. This reflects a “fundamental misunderstanding and misuse of the online medium”.
“The ANC website lacks strategic intent, and does not clarify who its intended audience is, nor does the website make any effort to engage with its constituency,” says Ambrose. “Basic usability missteps and key strategic content challenges detracted from the usefulness and usability of the main site and a user would have to resort to searching using a site like Google to piece together information on the party.”
Cope appears to be “caught in a time warp”, Ambrose says. “Its website is more of a placeholder for party propaganda and news releases than anything else,” he says. “Little has changed on the site since the last election. Cope’s use of social media platforms is limited and stilted and there is little understanding or focus on interaction and engagement with members or prospective members.”
But Cope wasn’t nearly as bad as the last-placed IFP, whose website is “absolutely archaic”.
“The overall look is so completely out of sync with the modern Web that is it jarring and confusing. The site, as it stands, is seriously damaging to the brand, and given the availability of free online tools like WordPress, it is clear that no effort has been made to position the party online effectively. To minimise the negative impact of the current site, the IFP should remove the site and start again.”
The analysis shows that all the political parties surveyed lack coherent online strategies and an integrated mobile strategy and have a “critically poor grasp” of the synergy between social media platforms, websites and organisational communication strategy.
Ambrose says for the most part, political parties failed to communicate online effectively who they are, what they do, what they stand for, and gave a haphazard picture at best of how they are structured.
“News announcements, blogs and social media posts too often degenerated into social commentary on the opposition without providing sufficient information about why its intended audience should consider supporting them as a party. They also did not make it easy, for the most part, for interested parties to engage with them or to provide financial and/or physical assistance.” — (c) 2014 NewsCentral Media