Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Social Media Evolution: Rise of Targeted Voter Applications

Romney and Obama have rolled out a new wave of "voting applications" on Facebook this month. These social applications encourage supporters to link their Facebook accounts to the candidate's website (giving a campaign access to a wealth of personal online information) and then use the application to target and remind other likely voters (read: supporters of the candidate) about early voting on Facebook.

Several journalists have noted the release of new voting reminder applications, such as this article from The Hill , but I decided to give the application a trial run.

Obama supporters were encouraged to link their Facebook accounts to the campaign website with a free bumper sticker offer (obviously a large enough incentive for me).

Once online, the user must approve access to their Facebook profile. In addition to your own early voting and precinct reminders, the website searches your Facebook friends and allows you to send multiple reminders from one click. The website makes no mention of any voter targeting in this supposedly random suggestion/reminder tool; however, a quick analysis of which friends were given as suggested people to remind about early voting showed clear patterns. In both automated "suggested reminders" I was given a 10-20 person list of friends that are likely Obama supporters (either because of explicitly stated partisan preference on Facebook or because of their demographic information); moreover, these likely democratic supporters also just happen to live in swing states. The clever (and silent) targeting makes the application especially ingenious.

Once you select (and deselect) which friends you would like to remind to early vote, the application only requires one click to simultaneously post reminders to your chosen friends' walls (and your own).
The posted links are incredibly easy to follow and take your friend to a personalized early voting reminder and information about where, when, and how they can vote early (for Barack Obama).

My reading of the news coverage leads me to believe that the Romney application works in a very similar way (see the linked article above). This is, undoubtedly, just the beginning of more targeted, free voter turnout applications for social media. Although both campaigns have developed similar designs, I am anxious to see how usage and response rates vary based on partisan affiliation (my bets are, again, on Obama here).

Get out and (early) vote!

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