Lately, much is being made of local political parties’ increasing use of technology and their engagement with voters via social media platforms. This hype tends to pick up momentum when elections loom, and tech journos seem to try and make much of this supposed digital evolution that we are seeing in politicking.

In fact, this year’s upcoming general elections, in May, have been dubbed a social media dress rehearsal for 2019, when political parties’ fi rst point of attack will be through the Internet. Pundits even went as far as to say that those political parties that are not gearing up for social media engagement now will lose out in the 2019 elections.

However, I can’t help but remain sceptical about how much weight is being placed on the usefulness of social media engagement between politicos and their voters.

Considering South Africa’s rather low Internet penetration levels, one should really question whether this envisioned shift to high-tech campaigning really warrants the excitement it has kicked up.

That political parties are becoming increasingly vocal over social media – such as Facebook, Twitter and – cannot be denied; but there is scant data about how useful this engagement is in terms of winning votes.

For example, the most recent figures from , around how many mentions parties received between the end of January and 24 February show: : 112 223 mentions from 37 827 people; African National Congress: 59 958 mentions from 19 116 people; Economic Freedom Fighters: 33 643 mentions from 11 489 people; Agang: 8 778 mentions from 4 920 people; Cope: 3 267 mentions from 2 296 people; and Patriotic Alliance: 67 mentions from 49 people.

The ’s social media presence runs under the “My” banner and incorporates Facebook, Twitter, picture-sharing platform, Flickr and . Recent figures show that the My Facebook page has 44 235 likes, while the Twitter equivalent has accumulated more than 96 300 followers.

The DA has 57 471 Facebook fans, 58 300 Twitter followers, and 198 413 subscribers, while the has around 12 429 Facebook “likes” and 3 679 Twitter followers.

According to the SA Social Media Landscape 2014 research study, released by and , Twitter saw the highest percentage growth of all major social networks, increase from 2.4 million to 5.5 million South African users in 12 months. In the case of Facebook, there are currently 9.4 million active local users.

When one considers that 25.3 million people have registered to cast their vote on 7 May, out of voting-age population of 31.4 million, it is safe to say that political parties are hardly setting social networks alight.

Unless something drastically changes by 2019, I would advise politicians not to park that campaign bus just yet.

Happy reading!

Martin Czernowalow