The Democratic Alliance (DA) has a substantial lead in online performance over its rivals, with the African National Congress (ANC) coming a distant second, narrowly ahead of the Congress of the People (COPE).
These are some of the findings of an in-depth analysis of the Internet strategies of South Africa's main political parties ahead of the 2009 general elections this month, conducted by World Wide Worx.
The study found that the United Democratic Movement (UDM) and Independent Democrats (ID), in turn, are well behind COPE, while the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) trails so far behind, its web presence is described as "damaging".
The first formal web site benchmarking survey of South African political parties was released by World Wide Worx, which uses its Webagility system to evaluate and benchmark web site usability and strategy of companies, organisations and institutions in South Africa and globally.
The Webagility system breaks the analysis down into several modules, including usability, social media, campaign effectiveness, and content strategy. Each module contains up to 30 micro-elements, which are each assigned a score, providing a detailed measure of overall effectiveness of online presence. Webagility has been used to analyse sites for clients as diverse as major retailers, banks, bookstores, the City of Jo'burg, SA Revenue Services, the SA Institute of Chartered Accountants and Wits University.
"The DA site achieves only an average score from a usability point of view, but their content strategy sets them apart," says Steven Ambrose, MD of WWW Strategy, which conducts the Webagility analyses on behalf of World Wide Worx. "Benchmarked against global best practise, the DA scores 81% on content strategy, against 64% by the ANC and 60% by COPE."
In usability, the DA score drops to 69%, while the ANC is consistent at 63% and COPE drops to 57%. Campaign effectiveness sees similar ratings for the DA, at 65%, while the ANC scores only 48%, COPE 45% and the UDM comparing well with these at 43%.
The much-vaunted use of social media like blogging, Facebook and YouTube by the political parties is revealed by the analysis to lag behind global best practice. While the DA still leads substantially here, its benchmarked score drops to 69%. The ANC plummets to 47% and COPE 43%.
"The difference lies not so much in what they are doing, but in how they are doing it," says Ambrose. "The ANC have clearly invested heavily in their online presence, and their YouTube site looks most impressive at first sight. But it is put to very poor use, with uninspiring content, and little opportunity for voter engagement. The DA, on the other hand, has spent less money on the Internet, but scores far higher due to the direct engagement of its own representatives. Their blogs are not only relevant, but interesting, so it comes across as real engagement rather than a public relations exercise."
The overall Webagility scores of the major parties, benchmarked against global best practice, are: DA – 76%; ANC – 61%; COPE – 56%; UDM – 43%; ID – 32%; and IFP – 23%.
"The poor performance of the IFP web site, which our system characterises as 'potentially damaging', is a reflection of the reality that the IFP does not expect its target voter audience to be found among Internet users," says Arthur Goldstuck, MD of World Wide Worx. "It is probably not vote-effective for them to spend too much energy online. The ID's performance is more a reflection of poor understanding of online strategy, with its leader famous for her attacks on blogs."
Goldstuck adds that the DA has clearly done its homework on the Obama campaign in the USA, which set the standard globally for embracing the Internet in political campaigning.
"We have nothing like that kind of sophistication in South Africa, but lessons are being learned fast."