Story URL:
Story Retrieval Date: 4/17/2015 12:01:35 PM CST

Top Stories

Source: Official Barack Obama website

President Obama is the first 2012 presidential candidate to create an iPad and iPhone app to promote his campaign.

Facebook, Twitter reign supreme in politics, but watch out for the iPad

by Katie Banks
April 21, 2011

Presidential candidates in 2012 plan to take a big bite of the Apple, and hope you will, too.

Campaign media strategists and creative technologists alike are convinced that Apple Inc.’s devices will play a dominant role in the upcoming election. Candidates just need to invest the time and money into developing attention-grabbing applications.

“Campaigns are going to come up with some really interesting uses for it,” said Andy Hullinger, a creative technologist at a leading Chicago advertising agency. “One thing that surprised everybody about the iPad was the validity of it as a content device.”

So what are the political parties doing?

The Democratic National Committee has launched two iPhone and iPad apps, one of which was for Organizing for America, last June to be used during the 2010 midterm elections. President Obama also just released an app with the announcement of his 2012 re-election campaign.

The interactive tools in these apps allow supporters to stream videos, obtain information about candidates, make donations, and stay updated on Obama’s and the DNC’s latest issues. There is also a “push notification” on the Apple devices that enables candidates to notify supporters of upcoming events and gives them the option to RSVP.

A search for Republican apps came up empty, and GOP officials declined to comment. But don’t count them out just yet.

“This is the year I think we will see the Republicans finally catch up,” said Dusty Trice, a Democratic campaign consultant and new media strategist. “Now it’s just a race to see who can get the best digital infrastructure built.”

Apps won’t work without a strategy

It’s not enough to just have an application, however. Campaigns must learn how to effectively integrate candidate information with user interaction, Hullinger said.

“The question is whether the media can enable you to share your opinion,” he said, “or advocate for an issue or a candidate, as opposed to just ‘Click here to read about this or donate money.’”

New interactive applications for parties and candidates could include games, quizzes or fill-in-the-blank forums for users to share their political views with friends and family.

In addition to capitalizing on Apple’s devices for content features, campaigns should also tap them for advertising possibilities, experts said.

“Ads aren’t really rich right now for the iPad,” Hullinger said. “The mass majority of them are simple banners with a quick little animation. It’s not really a rich experience that you interact with, but I see that changing. It’s just a matter of waiting for people to discover it.”

Hullinger predicts an increase in interactive ads if campaigns hire interactive developers over traditional print ad developers.

“Print departments don’t do interactive,” he said, “and that’s where most of these iPad advertisers are coming from. They need to ask, ‘What do ads need to look like in an electronic publication?’”

Social media retains dominance

Despite the political potential for the iPad and iPhone, statistics show that it may not be the best way to reach the most people.

As of September 2010, only 4 percent of American adults own a tablet computer such as an iPad, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project. This number may have increased since the much-anticipated release of the iPad 2 in March, but it’s still minimal when compared to users of social media.

This is where Facebook, Twitter and YouTube sustain their dominance on the Internet and in political campaigns.

Facebook has 500 million active users; Twitter has more than 200 million registered accounts; and Nielsen reported nearly two-thirds of all video views in the United States occur on YouTube.

Research by the Pew Internet and American Life Project shows social media use is highest among users ages 18-29 at 86 percent. But use continues to grow among older people: Users ages 50 and older have nearly doubled – from 22 to 42 percent – between 2009 and 2010.

Obama was among the first politicians to take advantage of these social networks.

“When he ran in ’08, we saw a real master of technology,” said Cindi Canary, director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. “He mobilized people through social networks. That was the beginning of a shift in how candidates raise money, with a real emphasis on smaller donors.”

Obama’s decision to forgo general election public financing (which removed the cap on how much money he could raise), combined with strategic Internet campaigning, helped him reach $750 million and win the election.

Obviously, other candidates were taking notes.

In the past few weeks GOP presidential hopefuls have gone digital. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney announced his aspirations on Twitter; former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty revealed a video on Facebook; and Herman Cain posted a statement on his website.

Obama is back at it with a re-election announcement via digital video that he e-mailed to 13 million supporters. And his visit to Facebook’s headquarters on Wednesday for a town-hall-style meeting was only a small taste of what’s to come in the 2012 presidential election.

Users are also becoming increasingly reliant on social media during elections.

According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 54 percent of adults used the Internet for political purposes in the 2010 election cycle, with 22 percent of those adults using social network sites like Facebook or Twitter for information.

Challenge: Breaking out of the crowd

But with everyone on the social media bandwagon, it will be more difficult for candidates to stand out, experts said.

“This will be the campaign where it’s not enough to just have these things, but we need to be using them strategically,” said Trevor Montgomery, founder and president of Watch Street Consulting in Chicago.

Effective campaigns will place more emphasis on mobile peer-to-peer communication models, Montgomery said. These models encourage “third party validation” in which voters consistently share their political preferences with other voters.

“Communication is more valuable when it’s coming from someone you know and trust,” Montgomery said. “I think all candidates will be able to achieve that third party validation on a much larger scale with Facebook, text messaging and mobile apps.”

Other trends experts expect to see in 2012 will include text message donations, more Facebook town halls, and an influx of live streaming video debates.

“In 2012 I think we will see a major presidential debate on Facebook,” Trice said.

Trice also predicts the emergence of more specialized social media jobs in campaigns. For example, there will be designated positions for Tweeters, Flickr picture takers and YouTube videographers.

But no matter how much content candidates produce, they will always be competing with third parties for attention.

“You can’t control user generated content that goes viral,” Trice said. “That’s just the nature of the Internet. Campaigns can’t be afraid of it – they should just embrace it.”