Battle for votes moves to social media

Sunday October 21 2012

Presidential aspitants are reaching out to voters directly through social media signalling their determination to use digital technology as a new frontier in consolidating their support among voters. Photo/FILE

Presidential aspitants are reaching out to voters directly through social media signalling their determination to use digital technology as a new frontier in consolidating their support among voters. Photo/FILE 

By PATRICK MAYOYO [email protected] AND JEREMIAH KIPLANG’AT [email protected]

Presidential aspirants have embraced the digital platform as they step up campaigns ahead of the General Election.

They are reaching out to voters directly through social media signalling their determination to use digital technology as a new frontier in consolidating their support among voters.

Presidential aspirants Raila Odinga, Uhuru Kenyatta, Kalonzo Musyoka, William Ruto, Martha Karua, Charity Ngilu, James ole Kiyiapi, Kingwa Kamencu, George Wajackoyah, Peter Kenneth, Raphael Tuju, Musalia Mudavadi, Cyrus Jirongo, Eugene Wamalwa, and Moses Weteng’ula are now using websites, blogs, Twitter, Facebook and You Tube to directly interact with voters. Only David Maillu has no Facebook or Twitter account.

The presidential aspirants have also acquired short code mobile phone numbers which they use to send out breaking news short messages and others for fund raising.

They also have multiple Twitter and Facebook accounts, blogs and websites for themselves, their parties and different lobby groups associated with them.

They have intensified their campaigns by posting frequent updates on their activities and that of their parties on their various digital and interactive platforms.

This signals a paradigm shift in how the coming elections will be different from the previous ones.

They seem to be taking cue from what is happening in US where presidential campaigns are shaping up, in part, as a contest over which candidate is going to use the changing communication technology to woo more voters.

According to a study done recently by PEW Research Centre’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, President Barack Obama is leading his Republican rival Mitt Romney in the use of digital content to reach out to voters.

The study however, shows that Romney has taken steps over the summer to close the digital gap.

The two have intensified their campaigns by posting frequent updates of their campaign messages on their digital platforms.

The PEW study says the US presidential candidates are mainly using their direct messaging as a way to push their agenda directly to voters instead of relying the mainstream media.

The election of President Obama in 2007 is largely credited to his effective use of the Internet not only to reach out to voters but also to fund-raise.

According to research firm, Ipsos Synovate-Kenya polls project manager, Mr Victor Rateng, although they are yet to do a comprehensive study on the influence of new media on the voting patterns in the coming poll, digital campaigns are likely to be a game-changer as we approach the coming polls.

“On Facebook or Twitter a candidate is able to directly engage with their fans something rarely possible with traditional media such as radio or television. On these social sites they are able to show their human side therefore closing on the perceived distance with their followers,” he said.

University of Nairobi lecturer Sam Kamau, says Kenyans are fast embracing digital communication campaigns and it is an initiative that needs to be taken seriously by both political parties and presidential candidates.

“New media is an important campaign tool but need to be supplemented by other forms of media to enable it play a critical role in influencing the outcome of the March 4 elections,” Mr Kamau, himself a social media enthusiast said.

TNA’s General Secretary Mr Onyango Oloo says the party has embraced the use technology because it believes it will play a crucial role in the March 4 elections.

“We are investing as much as we can in technology so that we are able to reach out to our supporters in every manner possible,” Mr Oloo said.

Mr Nixon Korir, URP’s secretariat executive director said the party was going out of its way to utilize digital communication in their campaigns.

Apart from using Twitter, Facebook , blogs and websites to reach our supporters we also have a short code number which we use to engage our subscribed supporters and to raise funds,” Mr Korir said.

Mr Musyoka Wiper Democratic Party launched short code numbers both for interacting with party supporters and also raising funds.

Locally, Mr Kenyatta of TNA is the most popular presidential candidate on Facebook, with more than 260,811 followers, who is closely followed by Ms Karua of Narc Kenya with 209,621 followers, Mr Odinga of ODM with 133,012 followers and Mr Ruto of URP with 118,798 followers.

On Twitter, Ms Karua is the most popular with 101,541 followers, Mr Odinga is second with 85,138, followed by Mr Kenyatta with 75,489 and then Mr Kenneth with 40,497.