The Impact of Social Media on the 2019 Nigerian Presidential Elections… A CMC Connect Case Study

It was an enlightening affair filled with intelligent conversations and exemplary observations, as the entire staff of CMC Connect, one of Nigeria’s leading perception management firms gathered as a team of experts to discuss and annotate the impact of social media on the recently concluded 2019 Nigerian presidential elections.

CMC’s Digital Marketing expert Ifeanyi Otunji, gave a presentation that detailed the highlights, trends, insights and the general overview of the elections on social media; particularly Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

The key conversations during this period were encapsulated and it was revealed that majority were centred on the two most popular presidential candidates which were; the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari of All Progressives Congress (APC) and Atiku Abubakar of People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

To measure the positive and negative impacts of social media on the outcome of the presidential elections in its entirety, the nature of conversations before, during and after were meticulously observed and it was discerned that most of them stemmed from the Nigerian youths. The hashtag ‘#NigeriaDecides2019’ predominantly accompanied the conversations during these periods – other commonly used hashtags include ‘#ElectionDay’, #AtikuIsWinning, #PMB4Plus4 and a host of others.

Also considered as a possible influential factor on the outcome of the presidential elections is the impact of social media influencers. Social media influencers have the ability to influence the decision making of users across all platforms and this was particularly leveraged on by some presidential candidates, including Atiku Abubakar, Fela Durotoye, Omoye Sowore, just to name a few.

There are two kinds of social media influencers, namely macro-influencers and micro-influencers. Macro-influencers typically have a copious amount of following, usually about fifty thousand to a hundred thousand and have a vast reach and engagement with their contents. Micro-influencers on the other hand usually have a fewer number of followers but have incredibly engaging contents which allows for a high conversation rate.

Some noteworthy macro-influencers with the highest level of engagement before, during and after the elections include JJ. Omojuwa, Badmus Hakeem, Ani Nomso and Lazy Writa.

Among all the social media platforms, Twitter formidably stood out in terms of general engagement, with memes, videos, gifs and infographics mostly being used in conversations by users. Polls on the platform were also heavily used by influencers and regular users to determine the political convictions of Nigerians as well as the personal perceptions of the presidential candidates.

Although not a social network, the messaging app WhatsApp also had an impact on the presidential elections. The reach however could not be measured, owing to the end-to-end encryption feature of the app. Rather, broadcast messages were used to ascertain the level of engagement. WhatsApp notably contributed to the negative impact on the elections as fake news about national insecurity were heavily proliferated on the app, aggrandizing the existing fear of violence among Nigerians. The subjective nature of the messages shared among individuals on the app also contributed to the overall turnout of voters in various parts of the country, especially in Lagos.

Although social media played a major role such as engaging people, awareness generation for candidates, passing information (both negative and positive) in the 2019 presidential elections, it was discerned that it was not substantial enough to impact the turnout of voters or sway the results. This was evident in the results of some of the candidates with grandiose social media presence. A typical example is Omoyele Sowore who has over 81, 000 followers but only managed to garner 33, 983 votes! Another typical example is Atiku Abubakar who led most of the polls conducted on Twitter, eventually, these did not equate to the number of total votes he gathered.

All in all, it was determined that for social media to be effective enough to impact the overall turnout of voters, demographics should be a preeminent consideration. It was discovered that majority of voters during the 2019 elections were older people, most of who are not tech-savvy and have relatively no social media presence. Many are also located in the outskirts of the city with limited access to internet. A large part of these voters basically consumes traditional media and to reach them, traditional media vehicles and channels must be effectively exerted.

Apathy among social media users was also identified as a contributing factor to the overall turnout of voters as many often doubted the credibility of the electoral system, citing electoral malpractice as a reason for choosing not to vote.

Another factor that was concluded could make the impact of social media on the elections considerable is technological advancement in the electoral system. Millennials find the current electoral system monotonous and arduous as shown in their conversations and as such, many of them find it difficult to go out of their way to vote. If the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) could integrate a technology into their system that enables people to vote from the comfort of their homes, then the ample amount of active social media users during the elections will correspond to the total number of voters.

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