Opinionista Oresti Patricios 26 February 2015

The days of #SONA2015, by numbers

Numbers don’t lie, especially when it comes to re-tweets. Regarding #SONA2015, the people have spoken – and overwhelmingly, they’ve spoken up on social media. Here’s a rundown of what they had to say on Twitter, how often they said it, and who said it best.

In politics, they say, a week is a long time. Two weeks, then, should be more than enough time to change a country. It has been two weeks since Parliament’s 2015 season of slings and arrows re-opened, and what an opening act it was. On 12 February 2015, the day President Jacob Zuma delivered his State of the Nation Address (SONA), Twitter was tsunami of commentary. The red carpet, mobile signal jamming, interruptions of Zuma’s address, forceful removal of the EFF and walkout by the DA, predictably saw social media usage surge.

By comparison the remainder of the SONA was sedate. This included the debate on the Presidential address by opposition parties on 17 and 18 February 2015, together with the President’s return volley on 19 February 2015. But did the ‘broken man’ speech by the DA’s Mmusi Maimane garner more social media mentions than EFF MP Godrich Gardee’s demand that Zuma pay back the money? What was the Twitterati’s sentiment toward’s Zuma’s speech?

Let’s have a look at the numbers. In terms of volume, the president’s address was the star attraction. Research by our resident digital maven at Ornico showed social media mentions for the Presidential address almost hit 400,000. People were far less active for the #SONAdebate and #SONAreply, when social media mentions plummeted almost 75%.

But quantity obviously doesn’t imply quality. Analysis on the #SONA2015 Twitter and Facebook posts tracked showed that the overwhelming majority of sentiment related to the Presidential address was neutral or negative in nature. The social media tone for SONA was already evident on Sunday, 01 February 2015 when the Presidency took to Twitter and Facebook to invite public collaboration on Zuma’s talk.

The office of the president tweeted: “@PresidencyZA: What would you like President Zuma to say in the State of the Nation Address? #SONA2015.” The answers came back thick and fast:

Griffin ?@watkykjy Feb 1: “That he resigns. Thanks.”

Mabine Seabe II ?@Mabine_Seabe Feb 1: “I’m resigning because I stole.”

Miss Zwelethu Nkosi ?@Zwelethu Feb 1: “When are you paying back the money?”

Exhibit C ?@CJSteyl Feb 1: “I, Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma, resign!” Qha!

#ProteaFire ?@PhandleVuyo Feb 4: @SAPresident @PresidencyZA I think it’s pretty clear that SA citizens have had enough of you. Me included. Just resign sir. #SONA2015

The results of the social media sentiment – an analysis to see if people were positive, negative or neutral in their digital mentions – comes as no surprise:


The negative social media sentiment deepened during the #SONAdebate and #SONAreply, although the volumes of mentions were cut by three quarters.


Negative sentiment dominated social media commentary on 17, 18 and 19 February. The overwhelming majority of sentiment relating to #SONAdebate and #SONAreply was unfavourable. Some 29% of mentions were deemed neutral while 71% were negative.

A big surprise during #SONA2015 was the overwhelming frequency of Mmusi Maimane’s twitter handle during the big presidential address. @ann7tv dominated twitter mentions in terms of frequency, with just over 11,000 mentions in relation to #SONA2015. Mmusi Maimane’s Twitter handle @MmusiMaimane had the second-most mentions. In 2014 DA leader @helenzille was the second-most mentioned Twitter handle surveyed, after @presidencyza.

The drive by the Presidency to elicit comment on #SONA2015 saw @presidencyza dominate Twitter mentions. The president’s official Twitter account was the centre of debate. Although mentions of @julius_s_malema trended in the week leading up to the address, mentions of the handle dropped to the bottom of the top ten table during the address.


During the #SONAdebate, Mmusi Maimane dominated frequency, followed by ENCANews and the broadcaster’s key journalist in Parliament, @PaulaChowles. Other frequent news media handles included @ann7tv, @ewnreporter and @power987news. The EFF’s @julius_s_malema dominated, while @helenzille also had a showing, but not anywhere near as strong as Maimane.


When the President delivered his address, the top #hashtag was predictably #sona2015. This was followed by #EFF – obviously because of the forced removal of EFF MPs from Parliament on 12 February. Other trending hashtags on the day included the #bringbackthesignal, which Parliamentary and social media mantra used to draw attention to the fact that, for almost an hour, cellular signals in Parliament were jammed. The hashtags #zuma and #paybackthemoney also trended.

During the #SONAdebate and Zuma’s reply, the #hashtags were a little more predictable and politically muted. The top five hashtags were #SONAdebate, #SONA2015, #SONAreply, #Zuma and #EFF.

The top ten most active users during the presidential address were:


And during the next week when the #SONAdebate and #SONAreply played out in Parliament, the top ten most active users were:


The tweet that resonated with people most, because it was retweeted the most during #SONA2015, was by political commentator, newsman and author Justice Malala. The tweet referenced Zuma and Nkandla. The next-most retweeted Twitter post was by EWN’s Katy Katopodis, who tweeted visuals of the scuffle in Parliament as the EFF was being forcibly removed. These images were not shown by the Parliamentary live TV feed.


During the #SONAdebate and #SONAreply, the most retweeted Twitter post was one that expressed disappointment at Zuma laughing. The post was from social media wunderkind Caspar Lee @caspar_lee, who has an astounding 2.4 million followers. Lee’s tweet: “This is how my president reacts to serious questions about the state of South Africa”, which was illustrated by a media clipping showing Zuma laughing, was retweeted over 1,200 times.


Maimane’s “broken man” tweet, by comparison, only achieved just over 150 retweets.


Collectively, #SONA2015, #SONAdebate and #SONAreply achieved about 2.5 billion impressions. Massive numbers which speak convincingly to the fact that despite Jacob Zuma instructing ANC cadres to take to social media in their numbers, this isn’t yielding any real benefit for the ruling party in terms of sentiment. The people have spoken on social media, and what they’re saying reveals that between #Nkandla, #Eskom, #eTolls and the way government’s being managed, they’re not happy. Not happy at all. DM


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