Despite the growing penetration of smartphones in South Africa, the country’s social media users still seem to be using their office computers and connectivity to discuss burning issues such as whether President Jacob Zuma should and will #PayBackTheMoney. And the Economic Freedom Front’s (EFF’s) ability to mobilise supporters on the streets is helping it to dominate the social conversations about Nkandla.
Those are among the key insights from social media data gathered and analysed in the Salesforce Marketing Cloud Social Studio software by 25AM. The online media agency analysed social media conversation about the president’s home improvement woes between 1 December 2015 and 10 February 2016. The Presidency issued a statement at around 10:20pm on 2 February, in which President Zuma offered to pay back some of the money.
But conversation about the topic only started to surge when South Africans went to work on the morning of 3 February, peaking between lunchtime and 6pm. Twitter dominated the conversation around hashtags such as #PayBackTheMoney and #NkandlaPayback. From 1 December 2015 to 3 February 2016, there were 16 339 mentions of the #PayBackTheMoney hashtag, 99% of them on Twitter. Comments with a negative sentiment outweighed positive mentions by more than two to one.
By 10 February – when the Constitutional Court heard arguments from counsel representing the Democratic Alliance and the EFF about why the Public Protector’s findings should be binding – #PayBackTheMoney had 22 776 mentions on social media. #SONA – short for State of the Nation Address – had only 10 624 mentions during the same timeframe.
The conversation on Twitter was driven by news coverage of the topic, with discussion centred on keywords such as Malema, EFF, Guptas and Zuma. “What we take from this is that South Africans rely on the media for information, but take their discussions about the news to Twitter,” says 25AM CEO, Andre Steenekamp. “Perhaps with so many mainstream publications disabling user comments they have nowhere else to go.”
Steenekamp notes that most people are discussing topics such as Nklanda during the working day, indicating that they still prefer composing their commentary on an office computer’s keyboard. “For the two months leading up to the Presidency’s statement, discussion around #PayBackTheMoney was relatively muted,” he adds. “South African Twitter users like to weigh in when the topic is really hot.”
The DA and the EFF both worked hard to drive social media conversations on the topic as the Constitutional Court heard their legal representatives’ arguments. But the EFF dominated the conversation, largely because its supporters turned out in droves outside the court to protest against the President.