Too Early to Call: Winning Social & Mobile Political Campaigns

2016 is here, and visions about election tech’s’ next big “It Girl” are everywhere.

And all over the place.  The Washington Post’s Philip Bump ran through the many prophecies in a piece titled “Why 2016 Will Not Be The Snapchat election” – pointing to visions of the Meerkat electionthe Periscope election, and the Facebook election, while somehow missing theSkimm election.

Ahead of any actual votes there is a large dose of subjectivity in anointing both tech and candidate winners. Media rating of who is “winning” Instagram has brought us two Trumps and a Clinton, your mileage may vary.

We may not yet know precisely how, but campaigns are doing many interesting things, and the leap in smartphone use Pew found since 2012 [from 46% to 64% of adults] means vast new playing fields for whatever does end up the tech politics winner.

The big numbers come with some caveats.  Old people vote more, but you may only reach the 27% with smartphones.  And while Pew found 85% of phone users under thirty have smartphones, almost half max out on their data plans frequently or occasionally, which may damper enthusiasm for watching politicians for hours on Periscope.

Some 2016 unknowns are legal.  A company doing digital fundraising for Bernie Sanders failed to persuade the Federal Election Commission to modify its disclosure requirements for mobile phone ads, which threaten to be larger than the ads themselves.

Revolution Messaging asked that telephone mobile advertising be treated like other media where the Commission has found its own disclosure rules impractical because of size or other reasons.  But the FEC deadlocked 3 to 3, making no decision and leaving campaigns in limbo on this issue.

Mobile media and marketing has already succeeded in gathering vast troves of voter data, to the point that some political operatives are satiated.  Republican Matthew Dybwad telling the Washington Post:  “I don’t know if there’s too much data, but there’s certainly more than enough.”  

This Fall’s election for Louisiana Governor may have shown where some of this is going.

Republican David Vitter was considered a shoo-in, but opponents wanted to spark discussion of old scandals involving Vitter’s admitted relationship with a prostitute.

A group calling themselves Gumbo Pac created an online ad recalling Vitter’s troubles. The Pac’s Trey Ourso described in Campaigns & Elections how Gumbo Pac hoped to stir opposition to Vitter by micro-targeting to some very particular audiences:

“we used geo-targeting and dropped a pin on the state Capitol so Gumbo PAC’s new video was constantly beamed onto legislators’ computers while they were at work. We did the same for Vitter’s regional offices around the state to properly introduce ourselves to the senator’s staff. It earned some 12,000 views by the end of the race. Needless to say, Louisiana’s political class was instantly engaged. ”

 

Vitter lost.

 

Who wins 2016 is still too early to call, but it’s clear a good mobile and social game plan will be key.

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