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SA parties woo voters online

United States President-elect Barack Obama successfully used social networking sites, blogs and SMSing to spark voter interest, raise funds and eventually get elected -- and South African political parties are taking cognizance of that.
In the run-up to the 2009 elections they too are using the internet and its tools to encourage a political conversation among voters.
Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of technology research company World Wide Worx, told the Mail & Guardian Online this week that the internet "is an essential way of getting the message across for politicians".
"Most parties are embracing the internet in one way or another. To some it matters more, to some it matters less," Goldstuck said.
Clearly it matters a great deal to the Democratic Alliance (DA), whose website stands head and shoulders above other parties' sites the M&G Online studied in a snap survey.
The DA's temporary website -- the official site will be launched in 2009 -- already includes RSS feeds and links to discussion forums.
Videos show Helen Zille making speeches and a Three Minutes with the DA address to the user, emphasising issues such as the importance of voting.
The website encourages user input with links to DA-managed blogs which include a weekly DA newspaper.
With comments like: "Wouldn't it just be amazing if we pulled a Barack Obama on them!!!", the website seems to cultivate a sense of belonging for its supporters.
Anthony Hazell, DA director of relationship management, said: "We want to make it easier for people to share what they like, to become ambassadors for the DA."
This is achieved by the range of social networking tools on the site -- like Facebook and Twitter -- and links to Helen Zille's Zoopy page.
"It's a cost-effective way of communicating with people," says Hazell. "Your people participating online are the multipliers of a message, they take your message offline."
The website's design is professional and uncluttered, and the site is easy to use -- no elaborate fonts or colours distract users from clicking on their chosen link.
But, according to the latest statistics, only 9% of South Africans are currently internet users.
The DA's approach has been to aim their website at "existing supporters", says Hazell.
"I think the opposition have a fairly limited online market, they [the ANC] don't see it as an important market."
The African National Congress (ANC) official website -- with its rich yolk-yellow background -- contains no social networking links, RSS feeds or links to blogs, focusing instead on providing information on the party's structure, history and giving contact details.
Pages dedicated to key ANC figures like Nelson Mandela and Albert Luthuli, and speeches made by the ANC since 1919 are included.
A small section is devoted to the weekly newsletter, the ANC Today.
One drawback is that the site freezes whenever users click on the "feedback" link.
In all, the ruling party's website doesn't encourage the kind of interaction the internet-savvy user can expect from the DA's website.
The Cope website is up and running -- complete with graphics straight out of a 1990s tourist brochure.
All the basics are there: contact details, membership forms and donation information, but press releases are not updated regularly.
There are also no pictures of Cope leaders to be found on the site.
However, the site includes a link to its Facebook page, which is updated daily and details of upcoming events.
"We're having huge success on Facebook, we even have delegates going to Bloemfontein on Saturday," says Phillip Dexter, Cope national spokesperson.
Photos showing Jacob Zuma in mid-Umshini Wami shuffle are posted on the site and some of its 6,542 members have taken the opportunity to poke fun at the ANC president.
One comment on Zuma reads: "Looks to me like he's about to make an oopsie."
Cope has declared Facebook a "region" for votes, and building on this success, Dexter says "we're hoping to create a closer link between the website and what happens on Facebook".
"It's an innovative way for people to participate in the organisation. Society has changed, the world has changed, people don't have the time to go to six-hour party meetings anymore."
December 12 2008
From http://www.mg.co.za

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