This study is well-timed for any 2012 campaigns that are paying attention. Several Republican primary challengers will probably join the President in having branded campaign apps, and success or failure of those apps will be measured by raw download figures. That won’t help anyone get elected, though.
As campaigns begin their planning stages, they would be smart to think about which supporters would download an app and use it multiple times. This is a group who, in the past, I’ve called the “App Class” – high-level volunteers and grassroots activists, rather than most voters. Any significant mental and financial resources that go into app building should be allocated trying to figure out how to make these folks more effective. And instead of determining success based on how many times an app is downloaded, campaigns should look at the metrics that result in votes – in other words, how many phone calls were made through the app, or how many doors were knocked on using voter lists accessed through the app.
The potential for campaigns is fairly obvious – campaign rallies, events, and even media appearances could become fundraising opportunities. But consider the fact that few campaigns spent lots of time collecting mobile numbers in 2010. How many members of this year’s House freshman class will regret a lack of investment in mobile for the 2010 election when they begin their 2012 reelection efforts?
The Republican primary campaigns for President of the United States are – let’s face it – already underway. That means tactical discussion are coming soon – the term “tactical discussion” being defined as giddy blog posts about who is using what new toys – and that will include a discussion of mobile phone strategy.
Remember the good old days, when American politics was about a battle of ideas put to the test at the ballot box on election day? Back then, after the results were tallied, that’s when the vanquished loser would accuse the winner of fraud.
Democrats are already starting to hint at voter fraud complaints against Republicans in close races in Chicago and Texas. The accusations are familiar, and luckily for our democratic system they tend to be untrue. But they do make it easier to overturn an election in court later on.
The answer, as usual, lies beyond the headlines – and the fact that politics goes beyond the campaign trail.
For instance, last week three major think tanks launched iPhone apps. This is smart for them because their target market is nation-wide – so they have plenty of people to pull from. If only 29% of mobile phone users use applications, that bodes well for a research-based think tank; it bodes poorly for an organization trying to pull a broad audience to the polls on election day.
Remember that the campaigns of this year are plural. The Republican presidential primary campaigns, as well as the Obama 12 effort, will doubtless do their homework and aggregate the best ideas from the 2010 winners (and maybe even some of the losers) and spend a good bit of time in 2011. So mobile apps, text messaging, location-based networks, and other new gadgets are still on track to make a big impact in 2012.
If you missed it over the weekend (like I did), Fox News Channel ran a couple interesting segments on campaigns using text messaging to reach out to voters, including this one:
It’s good that there’s attention paid to campaigns using new, emerging technologies, but if a campaign tactic is only there to get free media then it probably isn’t worth it. But as the piece indicates, mobile phone screens are valuable because they are always with people, and text messages have very high open rates. Smart campaigns are recognizing this and, where it makes sense, instituting tactics that take advantage of this. One example is Carly Fiorina’s use of realGood Technologies‘ mobile phone bank – a platform which transforms any mobile phone into a terminal for a campaign call center.
Many of the high profile 2010 races aren’t using any text messaging outreach – after all, midterm electorates tend to skew older and turnout is usually lower. But some of these campaigns offer a good preview for mobile campaigning for the 2012 Presidential election
Both highlight that the survey says one out of four adults use mobile apps. This is true – behold this chart (courtesy Mashable):
Where they see market growth (correctly), issue and candidate campaigns have to see stratification. There are two mobile Americas: one which uses their mobile phone for games, music, news, directions, shopping, updating social networks, and other varied pursuits – an “App Class,” if you will – and another which really looks at the phone simply as a simple communication device to pass information viavoice (and occasionally text and picture). About one out of three people look at their phone as a handheld computer.
If a campaign, therefore, is going to invest in an application, for instance, the design process has to consider that most people will not use it. That doesn’t mean pulling the plug on the app – in fact, because the penetration of app-driven phones keeps increasing, it’s only a matter of time before every campaign has to have a customized app. (Consultants, start your engines!) What it does mean is that a wise campaign will ensure their app does the things the App Class will want to do. As an example, it may be a better idea to have apps that connect with back-end campaign data to help precinct walkers and staff than to have apps that help people find their polling place.
As Matt and I discussed, the rumor from Scott’s consultants is that he is not averse to spending money – so this was an educated decision.
I’m excited to see the implementation of good mobile strategy – and text messaging is going in some exciting directions. But too often, the people with resources to burn don’t stop to think through their online strategy. This is especially true with issue or candidate campaigns which use tools like Facebook for messaging, but really don’t know what to do with their 10,000-person follower list after everyone clicks the like button.
To use an old-school campaign example, imagine going door to door for a candidate. When the voter opens the door, you ask, “Hey, are you going to vote for my guy?” The voter says, “Yup!” and the conversation ends. You don’t take down their name, address, or phone number, or even ask if they’d like a lawn sign. The same is true if think taking action on an issue you care about ends when you send an email to your Member of Congress. Chances are, that email will be counted and deleted because the staff knows how easy it is for any crazy person to send them an email. (That’s why advanced follow up is always recommended.)
No matter how advanced your tactic, if it isn’t applied with some measurable and impactful result, it’s a waste of time and resources.
Scott Goodstein ran Obama’s mobile communications campaign operations. He said, “262 million Americans are using mobile phones. That’s roughly 84% of the total population… It’s the only device that’s truly with people for 15 to 24 hours a day.”
Another plus: mobile is a spam-free zone. One has to opt-in to receive texts, and a whopping 92% of text messages are read by the recipient.
Location-based engagement and smartphone apps are great, but at the end of the day they are part of a bigger picture: getting into that little gizmo that just about everyone carries around almost every waking hour.