The 2012 Election as Technology Showcase
The Obama White House, as measured by its willingness to embrace new technology platforms on a rolling basis, is perhaps the most innovative in history. This week’s Google+ Hangout with the President – essentially an FDR fireside chat updated for the Internet era viewable by millions on YouTube – is just the latest example of the Obama White House embracing Silicon Valley innovation to communicate with the American electorate. Before the Google+ Hangout, it was the Twitter Townhall, and before the Twitter Townhall it was the Facebook Townhall. Look for more to come, as the 2012 election campaign transforms into a technology showcase for the Web and mobile platforms capable of winning over the hearts and minds of the electorate.
As a result of the Obama Administration's penchant for embracing innovations like the Google+ Hangout, there are more Silicon Valley companies than ever before attempting to put their technology platform front-and-center during the 2012 campaign. Getting political candidates to adopt their technologies is the key to mainstream success and future profitability. Twitter CEO Dick Costolo has already gone on record, saying that "2012 is going to be the Twitter election,” much as the Arab Spring last year became known as the “Twitter Revolution.” Just as revolutions are described in terms of roses and tulips – might future U.S. Presidential elections be described in terms of Twitters and Facebooks?
Of course, there’s a very simple reason why so many Silicon Valley tech companies are focusing on becoming the “It Girl” technology of the 2012 campaign -– more advertising dollars. A company like Twitter is essentially a media company (even if it doth protest too much), dependent on advertising revenue for profitability. As such, a company like Twitter needs to sell Promoted Tweets, Promoted Trends and other advertising options to deep-pocketed corporate buyers in order to be successful. While companies such as Twitter no doubt want to add to the national political conversation, at the end of the day, it comes down to dollars and cents.
Get ready for other technologies - not just social media - to bubble to the top during the 2012 campaign. One technology that seems to have enormous potential is mobile giving. The Obama campaign has already adopted Square as its mobile fundraising platform-of-choice. While Square has made inroads with small businesses and individual entrepreneurs, it has largely flown under the radar of most people. Innovative uses of Square by Obama's and Romney's fundraising teams could finally bring this mobile payment platform into the mainstream.
What's next? Well, Mike Krieger, one of the co-founders of Instagram, was in the First Lady's Guest Box at this year's State of the Union address. Could special "election filters" be on the way? The long shot choice is Michelle Obama launching her own Pinterest board with all of her favorite interior design choices for the White House or her favorite J. Crew outfits.
What remains to be seen is that, as the controversy swirls around issues such as censorship, privacy and digital piracy, how technology companies can take the high road without simultaneously losing their relevance for the nation. Twitter, for example, has come under public scrutiny for censoring tweets in certain nations. Google has come under pressure for bowing to censors. And, of course, Facebook continues to deal with privacy concerns, due to the firehose of personal information that's now available on your Facebook Timeline.
At the end of the day, winning elections is based on a combination of three things: communication, fundraising and mobilizing. These are also three things that at which the Interent is extraordinarily good. Obama's recent State of the Union address, which pulled in 766,681 tweets in just 95 minutes, is an example of how these technologies can amplify the political conversation in real-time. A single moment in the SOTU – the “Spilled Milk” moment – got a higher TPM (Tweets Per Minute) than events in the cultural mainstream. The 2012 election hasn't even kicked into high gear yet, and there's still time for the candidates from both parties to experiment with even more technology platforms, both Web and mobile, just as they did back in 2008, when social media first exploded into the political mainstream.
image: Hangout With the President / The White House
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