COMMENT | Micheal Ayebale | The ongoing debate as to which direction Uganda’s next election will take still rages on across all media, especially social media. Will it be a ‘scientific election’, that is predominantly played on media platforms like radio, TV and social media, or the traditional one dominated by open-air public rallies?
What the Electoral Commission and scientists say, is being countered by the lawmakers in parliament, and the political parties. The scientists have told the Electoral Commission that public gatherings, with voters unable to social distance, will be a high risk as the COVID-19 pandemic begins being felt in Africa. Social distancing, wearing of masks are key guidelines to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The politicians disagree, and think long serving President Yoweri Museveni is pulling another trick from his hat.
Uganda has done well so far on the Corona Virus front, with no death despite up to over 1000 cases. The recoveries are close to matching the positive cases.
The role of the digital platforms in shaping this debate already shows the prominent role they will play in the political scene before the 2021 vote.
Facebook, twitter, Youtube and various blogs are already shaping the debate, if you can take one example in the past one week.
Photographs and videos emerged on Whatsapp, showing Health Minister Ruth Aceng apparently engaging potential voters – without a mask, and with limited social distancing. She explained the circumstances, but the influence this new media is playing in the debate, is one every politician would best follow closely, and adapt to.
Social media platforms are said to have played a significant role in previous elections of the world’s most powerful nation, the USA, with Barack Obama setting the stage, before Donald Trump riding on the same – in more controversial circumstance – years later.
The role of digital platforms Facebook, whatsapp and twitter, and the traditional radio and television, will be on the mind of every Ugandan politician vying for national and local positions – even if the debate on how ‘scientific’ the next election should be, is resolved.
There will be plenty of new voters, especially the youth, and guess what – they spend majority of their time on social media.
Uganda has one of the youngest populations in the world, with 77% of its population being under 25 years of age. There are 7,310,386 youth from the ages of 15–24 years of age.
Candidates that will best use social media platforms during a planned ‘scientific election’ will be have the advantage of talking to well targeted voters whereby they will be able to directly connect with potential voters.
Social media is one of the few marketing strategies that allow you to connect directly with your voters – and to listen to each of them. You know who is interested in your political agenda because they choose to follow your social media accounts, or comment on it. You can guage minute by minute the mood.
Digital platforms not only enable you to get instant feedback, but to be able to get analytics about the audience you are targeting – from age, region, preferences.
Just one well-crafted story by a candidates digital team for example could go viral, and win or turn the tide in an election.
Ugandans on social media make it easier for a candidate push their agendas to others for ‘free’ which is a great opportunity for candidates to reach a large pool of people that are interested in their agenda. This way you reach all possible voters by the click of a mouse.
Posts by a politician’s digital team will be multiplied to more target audiences, when shared by their potential voters. In this way, a completely new audience is reached that supports that particular politician, hence gain of more voters or supporters, voters are the native ones and supporters are global audiences for those people who are in love with politics.
Social media will also allow politicians to reach the said Ugandan younger audience that is increasingly resistant to traditional advertising tactics – which should naturally lead to an increase in voter turn out.
It should be easy at this point to see the importance of social media in political campaigns, figuring out how to do it all right is the big challenge.
Social media influencers instead of campaign agents?
In steps the social media influencers, who individually can shape the thinking of thousands of potential voters.
The role of campaign agents in organising the communities to participate has always been crucial. In the new normal, social media influences will hold the key to this many groupings of potential voters.
The influencer will create an election social media campaign to raise the politicians profile on social, and to get his key messages out to the voting public. He will decide on several platforms that can best reach the audience.
He or she will assemble a political social media team because everyone needs it today. They will help you manage your social media accounts if you already have, create CONTENT, respond to comments, and grow your social media following. Videos will be a key part of all of this.
Politicians are well advised to follow the three models of communication such as Homestyle information provision (HIP), impression management strategy (IMS) and participatory communication strategy (PCS) and choose the one that predominates or main strategy to be used.
Social media influencers would be seen playing a great part due to their credibility and trust that they have with their followers. They have with the experience of being on the digital platforms for years, gathered skills that enable them to play the right tune to get the attention of the audience.
Influencers will effectively reach a politician’s target audience (voters) whereby they will share the content of the politicians to the front of social media users that are already interested in a politician’s agenda.
As the debate continues on whether scientific elections will be effective or not, the wise Ugandan politician will know digital will be the key whatever is decided. Social media is here to stay, and could decide if you are elected or not.
Micheal Ayebale is a Digital Marketer, Social Media Manager/handler, Website and Social Media Content Developer, Digital Freelancer.