The best advertising always comes through word of mouth, but that is also the hardest advantage to manufacture. In the modern technological environment, a friendly and genuine recommendation can be facilitated by a number of peer-to-peer media. The internet has aided in the proliferation of many tools that are popularly known as social networks – Facebook, Twitter, etc. – but, in the last two years, the utility of mobile technology has outpaced the innovation on the Internet.
“A peer recommendation is more trusted than an advertisement. This goes back to 10 or 15 years ago, the key to grass roots campaigning was finding someone to write a letter for you. It used to be a postcard,” says David Avella, the Executive Director of the national Republican organization GOPAC. According to Avella, the text message and the mobile application represent the new way to accomplish a peer recommendation strategy.
“For older people it is through e-mail, but for Generation Y and the Millennials, even e-mail is becoming passé.” Avella stressed that for major announcements or organizing a rally on the fly, mobile platforms are unsurpassed in their utility. The most notable example of text messaging as the primary means of communicating with supporters is the 2008 Obama Presidential campaign’s announcing Joe Biden as his Vice Presidential pick.
Mobile technologies have become an effective and nonintrusive way to accumulate information on supporters. Targeted text messaging allows a candidate to convey critical information quickly and with high degree of retention. A candidate can remind voters where to register and when the deadlines are, target voters with state-by-state absentee ballot registration or promote down-ballot initiatives, invite people to campaign events or simply remind them to vote on Election Day.
Text messaging strategies and mobile applications are not the exclusive province of national campaigns. Local and regional candidates are quickly adapting to the new technological reality. Candidate for Texas State Representative in the 52nd District, Larry Gonzales, represents just one campaign developing a mobile strategy that includes an application for iPhones and iPads.
The Gonzales campaign’s mobile application allows users to track the candidate’s appearances, donate and volunteer easily, follow his Twitter account, email the candidate questions on policy and get messages on local events. The application even allows his users a glimpse of unguarded moments in the life of the Gonzales’ with a family photo album.
So what has the response been so far? “Fabulous,” says Mr. Gonzales. “Even friends and consultants of ours just think it’s revolutionary. Game changing. They are excited about
the ability to reach out and communicate in this medium.”
So who developed this cutting edge application – perhaps the most promising innovation in campaign technology in a generation? An intercontinental public relations firm? An overseas development team with ties to a major political action committee? Nope. The Gonzales campaign simply agreed to accept an eager volunteer’s offer to help.
Fredrick Gablemann, a web developer and New Hampshire transplant, was eager to get involved in the 2010 election cycle. He read a story on the Grass Roots Technical Summit, a conservative convention designed to coordinate efforts to catch up to the Democratic Party’s effective use of modern technology in 2008, on Erick Erickson’s community-generated blog RedState.com. Gablemann reached out to them to offer his assistance as a capable web developer. He received no response.
Undeterred, he volunteered to assist his local Republican candidate for the legislature. Larry Gonzales had the foresight to accept Gabelmann’s offer. “A campaign can use whatever the supporters have to offer,” Gonzales observed. “Everyone has a different skill, and I immediately jumped on Fredrick’s ability.” Texas’s 52nd Legislative District in the suburbs of Austin, has a young and technically savvy population. “What we have done here has developed and entirely new tool in the toolbox,” says Gonzales. He expects the application to make a significant impact on his campaign and on the future of the industry.
As important as mobile messaging is, GOPAC’s David Avella reminds campaign professionals that there is no magic bullet to ensure electoral success. “Smart campaigns use it all. There is no one method. Social media, direct mail, TV and radio advertising – when you think about the fact that the average person needs to hear something seven times before it sinks in. They see the ad on TV, get a message at work, and get an e-mail from a colleague or friend. You need all those things.”
After 2008, if your campaign did not have a text strategy, it could not be taken seriously. In 2009, Twitter had replaced the text. It is clear that by 2012, the mobile application will be a staple of the professional campaign.
Noah Rothman is the online editor for Campaigns & Elections.