Guest Post By: Matt Sloustcher
Last week the Obama campaign released an official iPhone application, a step the campaign hopes will bolster support among voters, draw in loads of revenue and keep the base well informed. Let’s put away politics for a few minutes and take a look at the effectiveness of the application from a communications standpoint.
The basic features of the application include obvious elements that any campaign communications adviser would suggest: News, issues and updates and images from the campaign trail including polling data, reactions from pundits and a means to sign up for regular updates via email or text message.
Other features, however, are much more telling.
Understanding that staunch Obama supporters would download the application in waves, the campaign turned the application into a powerful volunteering tool rather than strictly a means for rallying the base. The first menu option available when you open the program is Call Friends. This feature prioritizes your contact list by key battleground states, allowing you to quickly determine which urgent areas you need to lobby your friends in. From there, you can call your friends with just one touch. Another feature, Get Involved, allows you to quickly contact your local Obama campaign headquarters using the iPhone’s nifty GPS feature so local offices will get the unique support they need. The Local Events feature lets individual constituencies know when an event is happening in their area. From there, users can get maps and directions to the event. Finally, there’s a little green button on the bottom left that connects users with the official Obama donations hotline.
Building the application in this fashion is reflective of a team which understands that digital communications is not only a means for transmitting information to their base, but also a platform for bridging connections with undecided voters, generating increased revenue and extending the volunteer network. No data on the amount of money raised via the application has been released, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that iPhone users shelling out at least eighty bucks a month on cell phone fees have disposable income at hand. It also suggests that the campaign took notice of Ron Paul’s impressive feat last November, raising $4.2 million in just hours. With innovative fundraising techniques like this, it’s no surprise Obama is stomping McCain in fundraising overall, including a whopping $223 million in contributions of less than $200.
When you consider the average iPhone user – young, technically sound – this move seems even smarter coming from a campaign that has prided itself on bridging a deep connection with young voters and improving turnout amongst the 18-24 category. And according to unscientific observations from my friend Joey, a mechanical engineering graduate student at the University of Arizona, “Everyone I see on campus carrying an iPhone probably votes Obama. Why wouldn’t he put out an official app?”
I hope that, if Obama is elected, he will continue to leverage this and other social media tools to communicate with his audiences. As Steve Cody and Sam Ford recently wrote in BusinessWeek, it’s important that the new president “puts at least as much energy into using digital tools to explain what they’re doing to make good on their promises as they did in selling them to us.”
Whether or not this strategy will move the needle for Obama remains to be seen, but Obama’s presence and McCain’s absence from the app store only adds to the growing perception that McCain is out of touch among young voters.