In November 2021, South Africans voted nationwide in what proved to be historic local (or municipal) elections. The ruling African National Congress (ANC) won only 46% of the vote, dipping under the 50% mark for the first time since the country’s watershed 1994 democratic elections.
The ANC has battled high unemployment in the country, widespread corruption in government, blackouts, and poor service delivery, among other woes. Voter turnout was also low in these elections — less than half the population cast a vote — and analysts blamed public disillusionment with the ANC and disappointment at the lack of a single strong opposition party.
TimesLIVE is South Africa’s second-biggest general news Web site, typically attracting 5 million to 6 million readers in the country per month. Faced with the challenge of an apathetic audience when it came to the elections, the focus for the TimesLIVE team was to launch an interactive election Web site, in partnership with software developer EightySix°, that could also be used to enrich its news content and make the elections more exciting.
Boosting interest through engagement
The aim of the TimesLIVE election Web site — an evolution of a previous version built for national elections — was to educate and inform readers via real-time election results, and the main interactive results map was a highlight of the site. It allowed users to zoom over areas (suburbs, provinces, cities, election wards, etc.) and delve into a rich layer of past election results. They could then compare these results with what was happening in this election’s vote counting, all in real-time.
The team also ensured the Web site performed smoothly on mobile and remained easy to use and navigate, as about 90% of TimesLIVE readers now access the Web site on mobile devices.
The TimesLIVE editorial team also drew up a list of the most hotly contested political battlegrounds and showed its readers real-time vote counting updates for these areas in an attractive graphical format. Combined with the newsroom’s expert political journalism, these unique battleground views proved popular among readers.
An FAQs section contained a comprehensive list of election questions and answers, and the site also allowed readers to check ahead of the elections and on election day to see where they were registered to vote and how to get to their voting stations.
A pop-up news feed on the elections Web site displayed links to the latest political news articles on the main TimesLIVE news Web site, and maps views and graphs from the elections Web site could be embedded directly in election-related articles on TimesLIVE and on other Arena Holdings Web sites, including BusinessLIVE and SowetanLIVE.
The election Web site attracted more than 700,000 users (nearly all of those during election week) and delivered 1.5 million pageviews (much of the time spent by users on the site was of course focused on the default map view, which was the main landing page). We made an effort to make the main interactive results map more engaging, compared with the previous incarnation of the election site, and this paid off, as users’ average time spent on the election Web site increased by 47.6%.
The success of this local elections Web site — which generated overwhelmingly positive feedback from readers — provides an excellent foundation for TimesLIVE to expand on this project for South Africa’s next national elections.