With Kenya’s General Election drawing closer, politicians have realised that it is not just enough to address a group of supporters at a rally if they are to get votes from the youth; they must actively engage them on social media platforms as well.
Leading politicians are now taking the battle for the youth vote on social networking sites, especially Facebook and Twitter where young people spend several hours each day.
The politicians are posting updates about their activities, statements they release to the media and schedule of political rallies on social media.
Mathew Muthuri, a social media marketer in Nairobi notes that the scramble for youth vote on Facebook and Twitter has intensified in Kenya because of the growing number of users.
Kenya has more than two million users of Facebook and Twitter, the majority of whom are aged between 18 and 35. The two are the biggest platforms candidates use to carry out online campaigns compared with blogs and YouTube.
“Politicians know that if they want to reach out to the youth, social media is the place to be. As time goes by, the fight for votes through the sites will intensify. We will see them actively posting adverts and even propaganda that would not be aired on mainstream media,” said Mr Muthuri.
On Facebook, for example, the number of “likes,” one gets is important if looked at in terms of potential voters. And the fact that each supporters has a sizeable number of friends on Facebook and followers on Twitter makes the social network a huge vote-hunting ground for politicians.
Most campaign secretariats of the various politicians operate several Facebook pages with names such as “Friends of XYZ”, “Women for XYZ,” “Youth for XYZ,” all targeting different groups of voters.
“You will tweet, I will tweet back,” Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga said recently at the launch of his online presidential campaign forum, which comprises of a website, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube accounts and blogs. He noted that through social networking sites, he will interact with supporters and let them understand the vision he has for the country.
“I will make you privy to my thinking on urgent issues that affect us all. We will reason together to define the country we want and the leadership that will take us to the land of our dreams,” writes Mr Odinga.
Another presidential aspirant Martha Karua, posts this on her Facebook wall: “We live in a rough neighbourhood where though we have remained a positive force of peace and stability, our borders are violated. Our territorial integrity is violated and our border communities are left at the mercy of bandits. This must stop. We need a president who will be as strong for our lives as for our economy. ”
Strength in numbers
In response, Gilbert Mwali writes: “Keep up the spirit and principles. As voters, let us get real and elect a president who is strong-willed and has a vision for this country. As a young voter, I believe in you. All the best in the March elections.”
To ensure they reach out to thousands of potential voters, some candidates and their campaign teams run several social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter.
For example, Mr Odinga has Twitter and Facebook accounts and his campaign teams run several social media accounts to promote him.
However, Mr Muthuri notes that while politicians have embraced social media, they are not as active on the sites as their American counterparts.
“This is because they know the bulk of voters will be reached using traditional ways of vote hunting such as public rallies. That is why some ignore questions their supporters ask them,” he said.
He added that equally, their supporters do not care much about language when posting messages on Facebook and Twitter.
“Some post messages that are grammatically wrong but they do not receive a backlash from social media users because people are not keen. In America, a grammatical error can cost you hundreds of votes,” he said.