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7 October 2019

Data-led communication helps solve Cape Town’s water crisis

When the City of Cape Town faced with the worst drought in more than 300 years, it required an innovative communication strategy to rapidly change residents water consumption.

Hero Strategic Marketing, together with BrandsEye partnered with the City of Cape Town to develop a responsive data-led information strategy to rectify misinformation and drive fact-based conversations around water usage.

Through data-informed communication campaigns, Hero and BrandsEye helped the City manage the online narrative and reduce water consumption by more than 50% in just three years. A feat no other city in the world has managed to accomplish.

“It was really critical for us to have the right kind of data available to us so that we could respond with immediate effect which is so important in a crisis. The Primary aim of this campaign was to reduce demand and reduce water use. We were able to do that by having this kind of data available to us quickly and accurately” Said Priya Reddy, Director of Communication at the City of Cape Town.

Addressing misinformation

When rumours started to bubble up on social media that the City lost a bulk of its water through leaking pipes, a plan was needed to correct this misinformation and ensure the public was properly informed. An integrated communication strategy was developed to communicate the facts – the City’s leak rate of 16.5% was in fact well above the national average of 36%. With data informed communication, conversation quickly shifted from anger to one of pride in a well-run City.

Through ongoing analysis of public sentiment, another misperception was identified, namely that the townships were wasting most of the City’s water through unattended open taps and car washes, the communications team went to work again.

Once again the rumours circulating online were not reflective of what was really happening in the city. Only 4% of Cape Town’s water was in fact being consumed within townships. It was the suburbs with gardens, pools, washing machines and dishwashers who were consuming more than 65% of the City’s potable water. By seeding the right information into the conversation, and monitoring the shift in conversation , the City was able to effectively correct the misperception and encouraged the accusers to focus on their own consumption behaviour

The Cape Town economy benefits hugely from tourism. So when it emerged in online conversation that tourists were an unnecessary burden to a dwindling water resource, a campaign was required. The ‘Save Like a Local’ campaign was launched to encourage visitors to save and also let residents know that tourists were still welcome and that they were a vital contributor to the region’s GDP.

“Our combination of AI and human intelligence allowed the City to assess resident conversation at scale and in real-time,” said BrandsEye SA, CEO Nic Ray. “The City used this actionable data to understand what residents were saying about water and develop a resident-centric communication strategy that they could monitor and improve”.

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