The new DA website (2009) – my two cents

Posted by on Feb 25, 2009 in geek stuff, marketing, politics | 3 Comments

I very seldom write about work on this blog as it is largely dedicated to pure self-indulgence, and the two really don’t mix in my experience. That said, last week saw the culmination of nearly two years of effort in putting together the DA’s new website, launched last Thursday and that definitely merits a mention.

home page

We began serious conceptualising on the site around 18 months ago, although I had been squirreling ideas away since 2006, ideas which got ever more exciting as developments in Web 2.0 and social media unfolded. Using these, I drew up a long and detailed proposal which went through numerous collaborative reviews after which we put it out to tender early last year. After reviewing quotes and companies, we chose World Wide Creative headed up by Mike Perk and Fred Roed to harness our vision and optimise our most important means of communication with South Africans online.

From the outset, Fred and Mike inspired confidence in making the whole creative process crystal clear and outlining the design and development procedures step by step. The first thing we did was brainstorm the needs of our prospective audiences and potential for including social media elements and we later moved on to the more detailed processes like site design and structure. The actual process was way too involved to go into here, suffice to say that we felt we were in good hands from day one and all my fears in tackling a project of this size were quickly allayed.

The site that was launched last week, while adhering to the underlying ideas laid out in the proposal, ended up being not only very different, but much improved in a number of respects due to the extensive research and marketing expertise added to our ideas by the development team.

Unfortunately, the launch date was unavoidably moved back several months from the intended date last November due to changes in our corporate identity. Several people have commented that we’re too late to launch this close to an election and that the site won’t have any impact on our campaign. I have 2 comments here. The first is that the website is way more than an election campaign tool, and is intended to serve as a portal for communication with our supporters at all times (reinforcing the fact that we are not just a party who pops up around election time, but wants to engage with the public all the time).

The second (and I am generalising here) is that Joe Public generally doesn’t take an interest in politics until a couple of weeks before an election. I can tell you this from personal experience as the one who watched the web stats in the last 2 elections (2004 and 2006). The peak in stats only started around 1 month before the election, with the highest spike in interest occurring from about a week before the election until about 2 days afterwards. As has been pointed out, we cannot compare the situation in this country and thus this web strategy to one like Obama’s in the US where web penetration is almost total, and while an earlier launch would have been nice, I don’t believe it would have made that much difference in terms of the stats and their implications.

When I talk about Joe Public, incidentally, I’m referring to the majority of web users in this country – I mean the people who are generally logged in for less than 10 hours a week and who are actually out getting on with living the rest of the time, not the small community of several thousand online social media experts (self named?), bloggers and geeks whom I all love very much, but some of whom (as Melissa said on Nic’s post) “are so far up there arses that they are out there to slam and test and poke holes in any new SM strategy”. So far up their own arses they’re seeing daylight in some cases, methinks.

The sites (and I’ve only really focused on the main site so far, www.da.org.za – the other one launched was contributetochange.org.za) actually provoked a lot of positive feedback online as well as the usual blunt dissections by the whingers and moaners which we’ve come to expect. In the end and without meaning to offend anyone, while it’s great that the site stands up to online review (and we did invite bloggers such as Justin and Chris to the launch because we wanted feedback from those in the know), the ‘experts’ are only a tiny percentage of our target audience, and the site and strategy are really not aimed at them (except perhaps the more specialised online tools such as twitter and the social media links).

The internet provides such a comfy mask and such a versatile soap-box that it is very easy for the online-savvy to be critical (of almost everything actually) – what they tend to forget is that their narrow world view is just that, narrow – a mere sliver of the rich and powerful tapestry that makes up the collective experience of South Africans. Some people are so busy knowing everything that they stop thinking about anything outside the paradigms they are comfortable with and forget that the majority of South Africans are just regular ouens, who may know what Facebook is, but don’t give a toss about SEO, social media strategy and blogging. The experts who forget this would do well to pull their heads out and subject themselves to some serious self examination.

It’s actually something I see quite a lot working in politics, and something that we are constantly reminded of by our brilliant strategists “Do NOT assume because your friends, parents, tennis partners, the lady in the shop (insert stereotype here) think XYZ, that the rest of the country thinks XYZ too” – it’s a special form of psychological extrapolation that’s easy to fall prey to. The number of times I’ve heard some cougal pipe up and say “well my MAID says that…..”, the implication being “all black people think that…” – It just isn’t that simple, people just aren’t that simple, and to assume they are is the grossest of insults.

The first thing Fred said to us when we met to discuss the site and something which really stuck, was “be authentic” – great advice on both personal and professional levels. Advice that we followed. So the long and short of it is this. These sites area tools – tools made to be gripped with both hands and used by the people who want to know about us, the people who want to talk to us, the people who want their voices, ideas and opinions heard and responded to, the people who want to engage and get involved on any level they desire. These are not people who are going to look at our online presence and try to pick it apart. They are the people who are going to look at it and say “hey – these guys are making it easy for me…perhaps I will get involved…perhaps I will write a letter to the press, or donate R10 via sms” That’s what we’re after, and judging by the response to our volunteer programme so far, that’s what we’re getting.

As for the place of our onlince strategy in the campaign as a whole, Nic questioned the amount of money put into the online campaign and its potential returns. While we obviously can’t divulge that, the cost is but a fraction of that being spent on the election campaign as a whole (as the potential reach is but a fraction of that of the more traditional methods of campaigning). As for the returns, we will only see them as they happen, as we are as curious as everyone else to see what kind of impact our strategies will have.

Just a final word: This post was not written to diss ‘online experts’ and I do apologise if I’ve offended anyone, it was merely meant to provide a view from this side of the fence 😛

the team

L2R: Me, Anthony Hazell (back - director of relationship management), Ryan Coetzee (CEO), Helen Zille (Party Leader), Fred Roed (World Wide Creative)

Read more here:


SA political party launches impressive, Obama-esque campaign site

The DA, social media and the masses

I was invited to the Democratic Alliance social media launch campaign

DA, gurus and the online circus

DA reaction has me puzzled!

The DA’s use of Social Media | Can we really call it social?

3 Comments

  1. Walter Pike
    May 10, 2009

    Just got a ping back that you had linked my blog. Wonder why it took so long?

    When the insecure protestations fade, some will realise that very few, if any of the “so called” experts did anything other than offer constructive criticism and support.

    A corner stone of learning is the realisation that none of us, sorry maybe I should rather say that there are some of us who don’t know it all and learn from constructive but critical peer review.

    I hope that the DA group, now that the elections are over consider that AND allow themselves to learn, and share the learnings, it will do the whole industry in South Africa an enormous amount of good.

    Reply
  2. Nic
    May 11, 2009

    Ye, I just got the pingback now too. Strange.

    Thanks for linking to my post and I don’t think you insulted anyone, personally. Good post.

    Reply
    • wikidknickers
      May 12, 2009

      Thanks guys – yeah, that pingback issue is pretty strange – I’ve just switched hosting after a series of disasters, so it could be something to do with the reinstall 🙂

      Reply

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