It’s difficult to predict which online mediums will be the most influential by the time the 2016 presidential race rolls around. But most social media gurus would agree that its highly unlikely Facebook won’t continue be one of the dominant social networking applications for years to come. And as such, Facebook will play a key role in reaching potential voters, and young voters in particular, in 2016.
TIME magazine’s Michael Scherer is out with yet another insightful piece on the magazine’s“Swampland” blog explaining the Obama 2012 campaign’s incredible use of technology. In this piece Scherer profiles the campaign’s facebook application.
“In the final weeks before Election Day, a scary statistic emerged from the databases at Barack Obama’s Chicago headquarters: half the campaign’s targeted swing-state voters under age 29 had no listed phone number. They lived in the cellular shadows, effectively immune to traditional get-out-the-vote efforts.
For a campaign dependent on a big youth turnout, this could have been a crisis. But the Obama team had a solution in place—a Facebook application that will transform the way campaigns are conducted in the future. For supporters, the app appeared to be just another way to digitally connect to the campaign. But to the Windy City number crunchers, it was a game changer. “I think this will wind up being the most groundbreaking piece of technology developed for this campaign,” says Teddy Goff, the Obama campaign’s digital director.”
Scherer goes on to reveal that more than 1 million Obama supporters signed up fro the app, and suddenly either through direct use of the app or through app users’ friend lists, the Obama campaign was able to find and reach out to the young supporters whose phone numbers it did not have.
The campaign also used the app to get users to share targeted content with their friends.
“More than 600,000 supporters followed through with more than 5 million contacts, asking their friends to register to vote, give money, vote or look at a video specifically designed to change their mind,” Scherer reports.
Considering that 22-23 million young people voted in the 2012 election, and more than 14,500,000 of them voted for Obama, the fact that the Obama campaign contacted only 5 million people of all ages through the app may seem negligible. Its important to keep in mind that the Obama campaign’s facebook app was developed last minute, and an app developed earlier on in the campaign would have reached an exponentially greater number of people.
Furthermore, Scherer reports that, “Early tests of the system found statistically significant changes in voter behavior. People whose friends sent them requests to vote early and register to vote, for example, were more likely to do so than similar potential voters who were not contacted.”
A well-developed Facebook application could be a candidate’s ace in the hole in the next presidential election.
While we don’t know who the 2016 GOP nominee will be, we do know that according to federal law the only outside organization he or she will be able to work with is the national party. The good news is that the Republican National Committee has an existing facebook application.
Through the app supporters can invite friends to use the app, find and create events in their area, make calls from home and donate. However, the app runs mind bogglingly slow, users are unable to see and connect with their friends who are also using the app, and while users can watch RNC videos from the app. But Romney videos, oddly enough, are not listed, and none of the advanced features of the Obama campaign’s app such as registering to vote and inviting friends to register to vote – the attributes that made the app invaluable – are available through the RNC’s app.
I’ve previously hammered on the point that youth outreach can’t be just an election year effort if the GOP wants to win the youth vote. A key part of youth outreach has to be building up the technological infrastructure in non-election years.
In preparation for another potentially ugly presidential primary in 2016 that would result in a limited amount of time for the GOP nominee to rally resources and voters, the national party should take the lead on developing a useful application for facebook, as well as building up a long-term presence on tumblr and other emerging social media sites. Given that it took the Obama campaign a year to build its impressive GOTV app, it is imperative that the GOP begin improving its existing product immediately.