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The political landscape is continually evolving, and South African political parties have adapted to these changes. The 2021 Local Government Elections provided a fascinating glimpse into the role of social media in shaping political campaigns and engaging voters. In this blog post, we’ll delve into how political parties, including the African National Congress (ANC), the Democratic Alliance (DA), the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), the GOOD Party, ACTION SA, and the Freedom Front Plus (FF+), harnessed the power of social media, particularly through Facebook and Instagram ads, to spread their messages and garner support.

Harnessing the Social Media Wave

South African political parties recognised the need to meet voters where they spend a significant portion of their time – on social media platforms. The 2021 Local Government Elections witnessed a surge in online campaigning, making Facebook and Instagram popular battlegrounds for political messaging.

Facebook Campaigns

Facebook served as a crucial arena for political campaigns, with parties like the ACTION SA, the DA, and the Good Party making strategic use of the platforms.

Targeted advertising was used to create tailored advertisements to reach specific demographics, geographies, and interests. These micro-targeted ads allowed parties to engage with potential supporters more effectively. The utilisation of Facebook Live to broadcast announcements, rallies, speeches, and events was also high on the list for parties. This approach offered a sense of immediacy, connecting voters directly with candidates.

The GOOD Party and ACTION SA, among others, encouraged continuous discussions, Q&A sessions, and polls to interact with the public. This not only fostered greater awareness but also allowed for constructive dialogues. Many parties shared news articles, policy documents, and updates through their official Facebook pages, keeping followers informed about their plans and progress.

Instagram Influence

Instagram, with its visually engaging nature, was another battlefield for political parties, especially because of its majority usage by Millenials and Gen Zs, who make up almost half of the voter roll.

Parties used Instagram’s image and video features to create visually appealing content that highlighted their vision, candidates, and campaign events. They used short-form content like Instagram Stories and Reels to provide quick updates and engage with a younger, tech-savvy audience.

Instagram also offered a personal touch to campaigns by sharing behind-the-scenes moments and humanising the candidates. Parties encouraged supporters to create content and share their experiences using campaign-specific hashtags, which created a sense of community and participation.

Social Media Advertising Expenditure

While we won’t delve into the exact amounts spent on social media ads during the 2021 Local Government Elections for parties like the ANC, DA, EFF, GOOD Party, ACTION SA, and FF+, it’s worth noting that political parties allocated significant resources to these platforms, going into the millions. The exact figures vary between parties, but the investments underscore the importance of social media in modern politics.

The 2021 Local Government Elections, with the active participation of parties like the ANC, DA, EFF, GOOD Party, ACTION SA, and FF+, demonstrated how political parties in South Africa embraced the digital age to reach and engage with voters. By effectively utilising platforms like Facebook and Instagram, they harnessed the power of social media to convey their messages, interact with the public, and build support. As we look ahead to the 2024 National and Provincial Elections, it’s clear that social media will continue to play a pivotal role in shaping the political landscape and influencing voter decisions.