DA's online presence disappoints

I had high hopes for SA’s political parties and their use of the web. In an interview with Sapa on IOL my colleagues didn’t share my optimism. In an Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) presentation in Pretoria this year, I urged political parties to take online seriously and demonstrated the Barack Obama website’s innovative use of social media (that was before Obamamania had set in).

The reason I had high hopes is that I guessed (1) many local political parties would draw inspiration from the Obama site and look to emulate at least a portion of what has been the world’s leading online political campaign; and (2) parties would be looking for any edge, online, mobile and real-world, in what looks to be the most competitive election in our history.

Of all the political parties, I was keen in particularly keen in seeing what the Democratic Alliance (DA) launched with. This is purely because, besides the ID, they seemed to be the party that took the online proposition seriously, eg: with groups on Facebook and a presence on Zoopy. Before their site was hacked, they had a fairly strong website presence. Their nearest competitor was the ID, which has been an early pioneer with SMS/Text campaigning, since elections four years ago. With this in mind, I was interested to see what the DA’s online strategy would be, in tune with their recent image makeover.

And what a disappointment. The DA relaunched, but their online proposition remained stagnant. If the DA’s election campaign and election results are anything like their current online presence, then they’ll flunk these elections. Their website is essentially a badly put together blog. It looks cheap and unprofessional, not befitting what is arguably a substantial political party. They also could be one of the only political parties in the world who use a blog for their main site, when it really should be an adjunct.

What is more: it is badly put together showing inconsistent design — and with the “wordpress.org” links still all over it. There is also no integration of a Social Media presence (ie Facebook groups etc). Just look at Obama, guys — there’s a website to follow. The navigation is cluttered and needs design. The tag cloud is inappropriate for a frontpage corporate web presence. I have no problem with using wordpress as a CMS, but to implement it with the most basic of customisations for what should be a major online presence, I think is a mistake. It’s not a criticism of the current site, but it’s also missing a basic Social Network, which would also signal serious online intent.

An overhaul looks to still be on the cards for the DA and, perhaps, the other political parties? Here’s hoping the ID will continue with their early innovation. Let’s see what the ANC can do with their substantial, but dated, web presence. (They now too have a Facebook presence) Also interesting to see what the new kids on the block, Congress of the People (Cope), come up with. In many ways they are in a good position as they can come at the problem with fresh thinking.

Why online is important for SA politics
Critics like to dismiss these discussions entirely as pointless, pointing to internet penetration issues. I have three responses to this: (1) you ignore the combined penetration of mobile and desktop web at your peril (ie the equivalent of 2 or 3 european countries combined); (2) You never know how influential that online audience may be, and who they in turn may influence; and (3) relative to the actual registered electorate who go out and vote, that penetration is higher.

SA parties by Facebook

Democratic Alliance 8,732 members
Congress of the People 1,123 members* (Already??)
African National Congress (ANC) 809 members**
Independent Democrats (youth… only?) 159 members

*Group created a few weeks ago
*Group created about 3-4 months ago

Comments (15)

  1. According to the ‘About this site’ page, it is only a temporary site, the new site will be launched in Jan 09. Will be interesting to see what they come up with.

    “This is a temporary mini-site that we will keep updated with all the latest DA news until our exciting new website is completed in January 2009.” – http://www.da.org.za/?page_id=54

    Monday, November 17, 2008 at 12:01 pm #
  2. matt wrote::

    @Robin Pietersen — pity the new site never came with the party relaunch and rebrand… seemed like the perfect opportunity?

    Monday, November 17, 2008 at 12:07 pm #
  3. Niki McQueen wrote::

    Hi Matthew

    It is indeed a great pity that we were unable to launch the new website at the same time as the rest of the CI, but due to time constraints related to design and rebranding, it was simply not possible.

    The new website (which will be *so* much more than just a blog) will be ready in mid December, but the official launch will be held off until January as a fresh start to 2009 – I hope you will be as impressed as we are with what our design guru’s have in store for us!


    Niki McQueen (web administrator)

    Monday, November 17, 2008 at 12:18 pm #
  4. JBagley wrote::

    Hey Matt, everything was on track for the party relaunch, but with the political instability that happened a while back, it caused everything to be put on hold – thus the delay.

    The full site that is coming is going to really blow everyone away – particularly compared to EVERY other party online. (Go and have a look at the ANC, IFP, ID etc. Hopeless)

    There is also going to be a pretty big social media as well as mobile presence… so check back in January. 😉

    Monday, November 17, 2008 at 12:22 pm #
  5. JBagley – So are you and/or Younique involved in the development of the DA site?

    Monday, November 17, 2008 at 12:32 pm #
  6. JBagley wrote::

    @Robin – no, a company I am working with is doing it.. I’m watching from a distance. 😉

    Monday, November 17, 2008 at 12:44 pm #
  7. kilps wrote::

    On that topic: how is it that the DA only allows comments on its website which are pro-DA? Surely debate should be encouraged? It would be far better if concerns could be posted and someone replied to them. Someone wrote about this on Though Leader a while back – can’t seem to find it right now though.

    Monday, November 17, 2008 at 12:48 pm #
  8. matt wrote::

    @kilps — if that is true then it would be a pity, as it would not be very democratic at all. The only criteria for moderating comments should be if its racist, hate speech or sexist etc.

    I also think comments that are irrelevant and badly argued should also be moderated — but its controversially subjective.

    On a political party website, in particular, there should be a high tolerance for dissenting views. That’s what democracy is all about.

    Monday, November 17, 2008 at 12:56 pm #
  9. Niki McQueen wrote::

    @kilps – that is not accurate at all…we publish all the comments received on our website provided they are not offensive or irrelevant (in fact, comments are automatically published, we only remove those that contain bad language, racial slurs or reams of irrelevant information – aimless ranting, in other words).

    We also try to respond to comments regularly, but given the volumes we receive, this is not possible with each and every one. It is actually quite gratifying to note that the comment forum is by and large, self moderating.

    Monday, November 17, 2008 at 1:24 pm #
  10. kilps wrote::

    Hi Niki – that’s great to know. Sorry for the misunderstanding. Tried to find the article where I read about it, keep finding links but no article – anyone know if Thought Leader deletes articles after a while?

    Monday, November 17, 2008 at 1:26 pm #
  11. Anthony wrote::

    Hi Matt, I see that others have commented, and my initial response has been covered.

    However, I’d like to add that I’ve just come from a meeting about http://www.contributetochange.co.za, our volunteer portal. At the moment it is a pretty basic site where you can register as a volunteer, but we’ve looked at both Obama’s and McCain’s sites, and we’ll be building on the best of both. I’m really excited about this aspect.

    Monday, November 17, 2008 at 4:44 pm #
  12. Darb wrote::

    Once again SA being lukewarm in the webspace. the DA rebrand is a cheap copy of Obama’s hope campaign’s look, but I will reserve judgement on the feel until the new site launches.

    The pixelated banner image and cheap knock-off of the Obama logo is nauseating.

    Seems like people are quick to equate look to feel. Obama’s site felt easy to use, it felt like it integrated with the different activities, and it felt characteristically American and characteristically Obama. The DA site does not look, or feel South African. It could just as easily be for a political party in the UK or the States (and this is a criticism, not a well-done-for-looking-international.

    Make the experience feel authentic. Make it feel like you place an importance on your website. Make it feel seamless, and make it look authentically South African!

    Monday, November 17, 2008 at 5:35 pm #
  13. Bruce wrote::

    Well I see they have changed their interim website and it still has WordPress links and poor graphics (and has taken your Obama advice a bit too literally). At least Helen doesn’t have a pixelated face but the crop-job on her hair is a harsh.

    It is unfortunate that political parties, and a few corporates (FNB!!), have not realised the importance of their web presence. Especially in light of such a co-ordinated “re-launch” one would have expected this to be a part of the DA’s strategy. It feels like the internet in 1998. Their excuses are not good enough either…an outsourced company need not have been preoccupied with the politcal instability (??). Wake up people, and TARGET the people you are trying to attract. Yes we cannot….

    Tuesday, November 18, 2008 at 9:10 pm #
  14. Jaymac wrote::

    @darb …some milk with that bile?

    Friday, December 5, 2008 at 3:56 pm #
  15. darb wrote::

    @jaymac thanks for the offer, but I am slightly lactose intolerant. Perhaps the DA would be better served to help them build stronger bones, and help them concentrate throughout the day.

    Saturday, December 6, 2008 at 7:35 am #

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