Apps and video will move mobile forward for campaigns in 2012.
For campaigns looking to make their mark with mobile in 2012, it’s no longer just about text. Many online strategists expect SMS to actually take a backseat next year as the presidential cycle ushers in a new world of mobile apps and an expanded use of video. The reason is simple: Smartphone use has grown exponentially over the past two years, making this coming election cycle the one in which mobile use by campaigns should explode. In December of 2008, just 14 percent of wireless customers in the U.S. were using smartphones. Now, according to the latest numbers from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, more than a third of all Americans are using smartphones. “Research has shown that by the end of 2011, smartphone usage will reach 50 percent,” says Cami Longstreet Zimmer, president of Campaign Touch Mobile Solutions. “Mobile doubles every six months, so having a mobile strategy for your campaign is a must.” Mobile pushed its way into the marketplace in 2008, but aside from the Obama campaign, its use wasn’t all that widespread or innovative. During last year’s midterm elections, candidates ventured further into the mobile waters with mobile sites and even some apps, but cost proved the largest hurdle. Unlike other social media platforms—Facebook and Twitter, for example—the costs associated with mobile were enough for most campaigns to leave it on the back burner. In less than four years, the average cost has fallen by half, say mobile practitioners. But building an integrated app will still cost you. According to one firm, what a developer may have charged $10,000 for in 2008 will be $5,000 or less this cycle. As for what to expect in 2012, mobile applications will likely range from real-time poll results to debate updates and just about everything in between. Quick response (QR) codes will be practically everywhere, allowing voters to snap a picture or scan it with an app and be easily redirected to a campaign’s mobile site. Not making use of tools like QR codes, mobile apps or mobile sites will cost campaigns votes next year, argue mobile advocates. Mobile video will also be on the rise in 2012 and, says Republican media consultant Brad Todd, adding it into the online budget will be a good bet for most campaigns. “Most of the mobile phone work in our business has focused on text only,” Todd says. “I think it will be very video driven this time.” Converting TV ads into mobile versions is one way to go. A campaign’s app can alert supporters to a new ad and offer an action point, allowing voters to easily share it across social media channels. Zimmer’s advice: “Create a full marketing plan that includes a way to reach every single person.” That means integrating TV, online and mobile strategies. As for fundraising via mobile—that’s a tougher task. Political campaigns can’t use short codes for fundraising because wireless carriers don’t allow it, but applications like Square, created by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, will likely emerge as a viable option. Square works by attaching a small device to your smartphone, which essentially turns the phone into a credit card terminal allowing a swipe of a donor’s card through the device. Last cycle, Missouri Democrat Tommy Sowers used Square as a mobile donation option at an event for his congressional campaign. Contributors swiped their credit cards at the entrance to the fundraiser to pay the $50 entry fee. New York congressional candidate Reshma Saujani also made use of the technology. Square co-founder Randy Reddig says the company is working to improve its data collection interface, so campaigns have an easier time collecting the reporting info they need from donors. “We are working on a reporting solution specifically for campaigns,” Reddig says. Visa is also debuting its “e-wallet” this fall, which will allow consumers to charge up their credit cards via smartphone. Visa says it’s not intended for political use, but Zimmer thinks it’s something campaigns could try to leverage anyway. Once donors gain a comfort level with mobile fundraising, says Zimmer, she expects campaigns to quickly take advantage. “Just as we witnessed with people years ago feeling uncomfortable sending money over the computer,” she says, “we see this same thing with mobile.”