In February 2020, AccLab South Africa launched an experiment that sought to increase UNDP SA’s online engagement after drawing inspiration from the sizeable following of popular South African media houses. At the time UNDP SA had 3000 Twitter and 7500 Facebook followers in a country of ~59 million people (59% of whom have internet access). Partnering with popular media houses was seen as an opportunity to boost UNDP SA’s online following, and for the AccLab this meant we could reach more people to source unusual solutions, and additionally, assist the CO to raise public awareness and participation in its activities. With the onset of COVID-19 in March 2020, little did we realise that such online interactions would soon become the new normal - accentuating the need for improved digital interaction more then ever before.
In February 2020, two experimental posts were launched to encourage UNDP SA’s existing online followers to interact with us digitally. As part of the experiment, popular media houses and innovation partners were requested to share these posts with their networks, thereby allowing UNDP SA to tap into their audiences and increase its digital engagement. The experimental hypothesis was: If SA media and innovation partners shared/advertised UNDP SA posts, then UNDP SA will receive greater online engagement.
Figure 1: Experimental posts on UNDP SA social media platforms and shared/advertised by popular media houses and innovation partners
Figure 2: The experimental timeline showcasing the online shares/adverts by partners
During the pandemic online engagement became a key driver of the economy with many companies and businesses, including UNDP SA, shifting its operations online in order to sustain an income and delivery. At UNDP SA, online interaction among staff, implementing partners and citizens became the backbone of our operations making this experiment more relevant than ever before. Furthermore, knowledge sharing became the key defence in the fight against COVID-19 and if UNDP SA could reach more people online, it offered South Africa a better chance of managing the spread of the disease. There was no doubt that popular media houses served as the beacon of light during the national lockdown, keeping everyone informed and updated on the latest developments. The prowess of these media houses during this time strengthened the experimental hypothesis.
The experiment launched on 28th February 2020. Media houses and innovation partners shared AccLab SA’s experimental posts through news articles, radio interviews, and social media until April 2020. The following figures depict the observations made on UNDP SA’s Facebook, Twitter and Website platforms over the experimental duration (i.e. 28 Feb 2020 to 17 April 2020). This data was also compared to similar data between February 2019 and January 2020.
Figure 3: Number of user reactions, comments, and more on Facebook between Feb 2019 and April 2020.
Figure 4: (a) The number of individuals who viewed UNDP SA’s posts at least once on Facebook between February 2019 and April 2020, (b) List of UNDP SA’s Facebook posts during February 2020.
Figure 3 demonstrates that UNDP SA’s Facebook interaction (i.e. number of comments, reactions, etc.) reached its highest level in over one year during the experiment (Feb-April 2020). Additionally, Figure 4a depicts a drastic spike in the number of individuals viewing UNDP SA posts during February 2020, as compared to the previous one year. To confirm that this spike was in fact due to the experiment, Figure 4b lists UNDP SA’s posts in February 2020. It shows that the two experimental posts obtained a 4 to 5 times greater reach than all other posts in February 2020. These results indicate that by leveraging the following of popular media houses and innovation partners, UNDP SA can expand its own online audience.
Beyond increasing interaction on UNDP SA posts, the experiment also sought to increase the number of UNDP SA followers on social media. This will help sustain the increased online interaction over time, without having to rely on shares/adverts by partners. According to Figure 5a, the net increase in the number of followers in February 2020 was ~8, the highest rise since February 2019 (exactly one year ago). Over the remaining experimental period (March – April 20) this tapered off. Overall, Figure 5b displays that the total number of UNDP SA Facebook followers steadily climbed from Feb 2019 to April 2020, and no major spikes were observed during the experimental period. This indicates that while partner sharing/advertising of UNDP SA’s posts increased interactions on the posts themselves, it did not significantly increase the overall number of UNDP SA followers.
Figure 5: (a) Net change in the number of UNDP SA Facebook followers between Feb 2019 and April 2020, (b) Total number of UNDP SA Facebook followers between Feb 2019 and April 2020.
To better understand the type of Facebook posts receiving the greatest online interaction, posts between February 2019 and February 2020 were analysed. Figure 6a lists the top 10 posts during this time. It illustrates that job adverts, UNDP events, and posts welcoming new staff received the greatest online engagement. In fact, the featuring of the experimental posts in the top 10 are an anomaly, as no other posts serving as a call to action are listed. However, this finding demonstrates that the use of media and innovation partners helped expand the reach of these posts, proving the experimental hypothesis correct. To understand the online reach of posts similar in nature to the experimental posts, Figure 6b compares all call to action type posts between Feb 2019 and April 2020. The reach of the experimental posts was found to be 2 to 11 times greater than usual call to action posts. This further confirms the experimental hypothesis; that soliciting the help of partners/media can help increase UNDP SA’s online engagement.
Figure 6: (a) Top 10 UNDP SA Facebook posts between Feb 2019 and April 2020, rated by reach, with the experimental posts highlighted in yellow, (b) List of UNDP SA’s “call to action” type posts and their reach on Facebook between Feb 2019 and April 2020.
Summary of Findings:
On Facebook, the experiment resulted in a significant increase in the extent of online engagement and post views. While the total number of Facebook followers increased during the experimental period, it was not a major rise when compared to the previous year. The experimental post was the only call to action type post that featured in UNDP SA’s top 10 posts between Feb 2019 and April 2020 on Facebook. These results prove the experimental hypothesis true and implies that UNDP SA can increase its online engagement and citizen participation by leveraging the online audiences of media and partners. Moving forward, UNDP SA could tag their partners and media, and request Facebook shares and media adverts to boost online engagement. Over time, this will result in an increased number of page followers, sustaining an increased online engagement in future.
In Part II of this blog, we examine the experimental results on Twitter and on the UNDP SA website. The twitter examination showcased some unexpected findings but supported the hypothesis in a meandering kind-off way! The Twitter and website analyses will help to better conclude on the results of the experiment, so to learn more, have a look at Part II of this blog.