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  • Edward James Bass

Getting the message: WhatsApp & political campaigning in the Global South - Audience Insights

Who are the audience behind this new trend - and what are their beliefs &concerns?

Image credit - Jacky Zeng @ Unsplash

Just recently I’ve learned about a trend of increased use of WhatsApp in the ‘Global South’ for the purpose of political campaigning and organisation, a factor which could have huge future implications for digital political campaigns globally. In this article I've used data from the leading digital audience insight platform GWI from to understand more about this unique behaviour, the audience behind it and what their concerns around social and climate issues actually are.

WhatsApp, Politics and the ‘Global South’

The term the ‘Global South’ is more of an economic one than geographical and relates to developing countries outside of Europe and North America. Reports on the use of WhatsApp have mentioned two factors which drive its appeal for political campaigning in these regions – the level of access to rural communities where mobile devices are the primary means of accessing the internets and also the fact that the messages on the platform are believed to have a higher degree of security due to the platforms end-to-end encryption.

Within the ‘Global South’ WhatsApp is used to spread both legitimate information and misinformation related to issues and political agendas as well as to organise groups, and this is often achieved using a mix of text, images, videos and infographics.

Understanding the audience

To best understand the demographic makeup of users of WhatsApp in the global south I used the GWI audience builder to segment a group who used the app on a daily basis and were based on twenty key markets within that economic region.

Demographic analysis confirmed that this is a young audience, with just over a third aged between 16 and 24 and are mostly based within an urban environment. The audience is also fairly well balanced in terms of gender, with just a slightly larger use by male audiences.

This data suggests that, while the app does see use in rural areas it is still more widespread elsewhere – although GWI data did also confirm that compared to other platforms WhatsApp and Facebook did see more use in rural areas in the global south.

It was also by far the most actively used messaging platform for this audience group too - seeing far more use in rural areas in the global south than other platforms such as WeChat, Facebook Messenger and Telegram. This would certainly explain the apps use in rural areas for political campaigns as usage does appear to be more prominent there compared to other platforms.

Societal Interests

Having identified who this audience is, the next area of interest was the issues that they were most interested in – an area where GWI data really shines as it has a specific section on these within it’s ‘interests’ categories. Since the ‘global south’ covers quite a large geographical and cultural area I decided to apply some segmentation by world regions here to understand how focus on these issues varied.

The resulting data reveals an interesting trend towards an interest in environmental issues within both Asia Pacific and Latin America, with both seeing an audience % of over 40 and to a lesser degree also a trend towards political and social issue in these regions too. However, the MENA audience tended to be more focused on charity and volunteering.

This would suggest that, for Governments, Brands and NGOs in Asia and Latin America seeking to engage and motivate these audiences, more focus on Environmental issues would likely result in more support from this young WhatsApp using audience group.

Audience Values

As GWI features some useful datapoints relating to audiences’ values and technology perceptions I decided to explore these in order to learn more about the audience – and to add further detail created two new sub-segments of global south WhatsApp users who were interested in Environmental Issues and Political/Social issues.

As detailed in the radar graph above, all three groups shared similar values – including a strong determination to help the environment – which again underpins the idea that this is a cause which would find resonance with this audience.

A belief in equal rights was also strong here, while only a small share of the audience believed that the need to maintain traditional gender roles was a belief they shared, suggesting support for the LGBTQ+ community within this group.

Studying these audience’s perceptions around technology also reveals some powerful insight. Here we see that all three groups are confident users of new tech who actively follow the latest tech news and trends and who believe that social media is good for their society. This positive perception of social media in society makes sense given the active use of messaging apps as part of political campaigns in the region too.

What is interesting, given the perception that data security is a key factor in the popularity of WhatsApp, is that there is not a significant amount of concern about anonymity and data security – and even less so when relating to government tracking of online behaviour. However, this lack of concern for online privacy is a behaviour I’ve seen in younger audiences globally in the past and so that it evident here is not so much of a surprise.

WhatsApp Generation

As political organisations and NGOs strive to influence audiences in the global south in the future it is certain that WhatsApp will play a continued role in reaching and engaging younger audiences and those in rural communities. Naturally audience data has a role to play here in ensuring targeting and messaging are effective – especially in relation to the environmental, social and political issues which interest them.

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