Thursday, 16 October 2014

Establishing online credibility in the forth-coming 2015 general elections BY ANIEKAN EKAH

Establishing online credibility in the forth-coming 2015 general elections BY ANIEKAN EKAH

Barack Obama won the presidency in a landslide victory (by a margin of nearly 200 electoral votes and 8.5 million popular votes) by converting everyday people into engaged and empowered volunteers, donors and advocates through social networks, e-mail advocacy, text messaging and online video. The campaign’s proclivity to online advocacy is a major reason for his victory. This is the power of Internet!

As the 2015 general elections draw close, we are constantly witnessing the creation of more dormant support groups and pages on the internet for politicians. This could be seen as a new dimension of politics in Nigeria but we would like to see more results and not just the creation of these (dormant) groups and pages on the Facebook.

Right now, owning a website is the in-thing among politicians in Nigeria but getting feedback, mining data, generating stats and analytics or creating a buzz by way of generating activities around these websites are what we are yet to see!

Obama succeeded in changing the way strategists think about engineering electoral victory but the lessons learned from his campaign won’t just be applied to future elections nor will they be limited to governing how the government relates to the people but by combining social media and micro-targeting in the manner that it did, the campaign revealed force multipliers that are already being adopted by advocacy groups pushing their own issue agendas.

The 2011 general elections witnessed a remarkable use of social media as a political communication tool in Nigeria. Around the world, rapidly expanding access to internet, increased availability of internet ready smart-phones and other communication devices, as well as the evolution of web-based new media – personal websites, social networking sites, blogs and newsletters have redefined methods of political communication, leading to a significant shift towards the use of social media in the electoral process. 

Previously, the print and electronic media dominated the coverage of electioneering and were the primary sites of election-related information. But today, the social media has become a major election information sharing platform globally. Because of its ease of use, speed, and reach, social media is revolutionizing the efficiency of election administration, coverage and reporting.

During the 2011 general elections, many politicians, particularly the presidential aspirants, used social media tools to connect with voters and constituents. Facebook and Twitter appear to be the most widely used social media platforms by the politicians. For example, in December 2010, it was estimated that Goodluck Jonathan had nearly 300,000 fans on his Facebook page. Other presidential aspirants like Dele Momodu, Ibrahim Shekarau, Nuhu Ribadu, Atiku Abubakar, and Ibrahim Babangida, all had Twitter and other social media accounts. Political parties like the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), and Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) also maintained Facebook accounts. Social media offered politicians and their parties the opportunity to broadcast messages and recruit a huge number of volunteers to support their campaign.

Our politicians can use social media, not just for election campaigns but also using it to reach out to the masses by showing them evidence of good governance via audio and visual channels. Social media has shaped political communication in four major ways. Firstly, it has deepened segmentation of audience triggered by the rise of network television channels and specialized magazines and websites. Secondly, social media has shaped political communication is by weakening the gate-keeping capacity of the traditional media.  Before the emergence of social media, the traditional media played a key role in deciding what is sufficiently important to be aired to the public.

Related to the weakening of the gate-keeper role of the traditional media is a third effect of social media on political communication. The practice of breaking news through the social media rather than press releases in the traditional media has gained currency in recent times. Press secretaries are increasingly losing their control as gate-keepers, and individuals now have more liberty to frame and prime issues they consider important. In all, the use of social media limits the control of traditional press secretaries over the outflow of information, and also decreases the dependence on traditional media for up-to-date content. Finally, social media has emerged as the new influencer in social, economic and political settings. Under this circumstance, the social media may likely continue to dominate political communication, and to serve as a tool for gathering and disseminating political messages.

Right now, we are yet to see politicians or incumbent governments post adverts on popular local blogs – who ideally, have more followers than print media! We are yet to see politicians posting their campaign ads online! Bloggers are yet to receive invitation to press conferences and state functions! Instead, all we hear and see are huge budgets from information ministries to disseminate information on the web! They claim to have spent a fortune on Internet streaming, some with as much as 4 viewers per event! There is even a budget, a huge budget for posting videos on YouTube! We are yet to feel the impact! Well, time will tell… only time will tell!

A few enlightened states like Lagos and Port Harcourt have tried disseminating information on blogs and on social media. This has worked greatly especially during the Ebola outbreak and tourism activities of these states.
Now, to establish online credibility and making your money work for you in the forth-coming elections, here are my top 10 tips!
1. Laddering support through tiers of engagement
2. Empowering your super users!
3. Provide source materials for user-generated content
4. Go where the people are (online)
5. Using social media tools people are familiar with
6. Ensure that people can find you and your content online
7. Mobilize supporters through mobile devices
8. Harness analytics to constantly improve engagement activities
9. Build an online operation to scale
10. Choosing the right team

No. 10 is really important. You cannot do everything by yourself. Do have this in mind! Being (active) on Social media isn’t creating a dormant page or group on Facebook or having a Twitter account with 21 followers and less than 15 tweets. Please note that a social media manager is quite different from the regular PRO of your election campaign! 

Choose the right man for the job! Get results! I’d like to get your reactions immediately you’re done with this piece!

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