Looking for a new way to gather information on potential supporters? Facebook applications, which create online niche communities, could be the answer. Mitt Romney, for instance, had a Facebook application, or app, that automatically filled in the name, email address, location, birthday and gender of those signing up for the campaign's email list.

"Rather than making people fill in a bunch of field forms to sign up for your email list, they can just click to register," says Katie Harbath, a public policy manager with Facebook. A subscriber who signs up through the splash page on the Romney campaign website, meanwhile, only has to provide a zip code. 

But open graph apps, which are created by third parties and added to a user's profile voluntarily, aren't an online field of dreams, says Harbath, speaking at C&E’s CampaignTech conference on Thursday. Just building an app doesn't mean that users will engage with it. "You need to put a lot of effort into marketing them," Harbath says.

"We have an 80-20 rule. Of the budget you have, 20 percent should go to actually building the app and 80 percent should actually go to promoting the application."

Once elected, lawmakers can use apps to foster "genuine involvement in the legislative process," according to Matt Lira, director of new media in House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's office. The Virginia Republican recently unveiled “Citizen Cosponsor," a downloadable Facebook app, which allows users to follow bills through the legislative process. Along the same line, the White House has a "We the People" app that allows users to create or sign onto a petition. "If a petition meets the signature threshold, it will be reviewed by the Administration and we will issue a response," according to the White House.

"Both 'We the People' and 'Citizen Cosponsor' are designed so that you not only receive information about what the updates are, but that you're given continual opportunities to engage in the legislative process," Lira says.

Meanwhile, if your campaign isn't ready for its own app, Harbath had some advice for generating traffic on a regular Facebook page.

"We highly recommend that you encourage comments," she says. "I know that can be scary for a lot of campaigns. But [by] allowing a discussion to go on, you're going to have a lot more traffic and vibran[cy] on the page than if you try to have it all just be straight up positive content, or not really much discussion."

Tags: CampaignTech