By Matt Hill
Political campaigning has incorporated a new form of outreach to potential constituents – mobile technology. With the rise of mobile applications and global positioning systems (GPS’s), President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney will attempt to attract voters as well as encourage them to vote on election day through their location aware mobile devices.
In 2008, the Obama campaign excelled in utilizing technology in order to connect with young voters. For example, he announced his Vice Presidential nominee, Joe Biden, via text message to those who had signed up on his website to receive mobile alerts. Obama supporters were “in the know” before even the mainstream media had been informed. By doing this, the Obama campaign told its supporters how much it values the relationship and the importance of keeping in touch.
Leveraging the handheld devices of Americans is one of the holy grails of political campaigns. The ever hard to reach 18-29 demographic is more mobile than anyone else. Both the Obama and Romney campaigns realize this as they accelerate their bids for President in 2012. Although there are a number of restrictions on how campaigns can send text messages to mobile devices, in general, American voters can expect their cell phones to be targeted by political campaigns this year.
So how exactly will mobile devices and new technologies alter the political campaign landscape?
First, candidates will be able to send text messages outlining their positions on issues as well as encouraging their supporters to vote. However, campaign media specialists have yet to discover the best way to appeal to Americans using only a 160-word SMS (Short Message Service). During Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s run for the Democrat nomination in 2008, chief media strategists bluntly texted voters, “Hello, will you please vote for me?” This failed approach has evolved into much more subtle and emotionally laced pleas. During the 2012 Republican Primary, Newt Gingrich’s campaign used a combination of conservative themed-ads and attacks on President Obama in hopes of gaining popular support in Alabama.
Secondly, access to personal cellular devices gives campaigns yet another platform to ask for donations and sell merchandise. With their Smartphone, constituents and fundraisers can now easily pay or collect money, using devices like Square. Downloading ringtones, such as this Presidential song, http://www.barackobama.com/ringtone remains a popular way for the public to show their support for their favorite brands or teams, which in this case are the campaigns themselves.
Next, text messages encourage followers to forward policies, attack ads, and random political facts to their friends. By suggesting that constituents share messages with others, campaigns are able to disperse information throughout specific demographics, target key populations, and potentially spark viral distribution of specific information.
Finally, political strategists have created mobile applications that allow users to track their nominees’ latest whereabouts, campaign events, and message their concerns directly to the candidate. The Obama campaign first designed an iPhone application for the 2008 election with limited interactive and social capabilities. Since then, media designers have expanded the scope of handheld technology (i.e. connecting followers through social media platforms) and have designed an interface enjoyable on the tablet/iPad titled “Obama 2012.”
On Tuesday night, the Romney campaign released its first mobile application and received an overwhelmingly negative response. The problem – the campaign had misspelled “America” and instead used “Amercia.”
Similar to 2008, the Obama campaign continues to show diligence and innovation when using social media outlets in order to reach an interesting, diverse, and young audience of voters.
Why does this all matter?
As new mobile technology increases the connectivity of our current system, political strategists and campaign designers will have another platform to gather further information about our personal stories and/or political beliefs. Both campaigns will look to target specific demographic groups as well as increase the click-through rate of mobile political ads of 2008, which was a staggering 30%.
Last week, we blogged about the importance of the Latino vote in the upcoming election (Chasing the Latino Vote in 2012). New applications such as Voto Latino, “will allow voters to register to vote and post their social media contacts from their phone.” Obama currently leads outreach to Latino voters but the respective demographic is still very much up for grabs. These types of mobile applications didn’t exist four year ago and they will play a crucial role in identifying key focus groups and hopefully gaining their support in November.
Marketing to mobile users is fairly new to the political sphere and both candidates need to be careful not to alienate potential voters. The candidate that successfully voices his message clearly, concisely, and creatively to the diverse mobile audience will hold an advantage over his competitor in 2012.
UPDATE: This article was sitting in my inbox although it’s immensely relevant: In 2012, campaigns target voters through their phones.