Heading into one of the first major Presidential debates of the 2012 election campaign, it’s time to ask: What role will social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube play over the course of the next 18 months in determining who will be the next President of the United States? Despite CNN’s efforts to create a crazy, no-holds-barred, social media debate environment for viewers, it’s unlikely that social media will play the same role that it did back in 2008, when it propelled Barack Obama to success. With every election cycle, starting with Howard Dean’s meteoric rise thanks to bloggers and the Meetup crowd, the Internet has played an increasingly important role in each election campaign, enabling politicians to capitalize on important trends already in the cultural zeitgeist. Viewed from that perspective, the technology that will likely define the 2012 Presidential campaign will be the mobile Internet.
The 2008 presidential campaign, of course, was the one that saw social media skyrocket into prominence as a grassroots organizing and fundraising tool. Team Obama completely crushed Facebook, MySpace and YouTube, with millions of supporters becoming fans across social media. It wasn’t just Facebook, MySpace and YouTube – it was Obama’s total cross-platform approach across all social media platforms. Obama literally covered just about every social network under the sun, across every major demographic. And it was a youth movement, targeting the HOPE demographic of people in their 20s who were already savvy users of the Internet. The Internet strategy was spectacularly effective, with one political veteran pointing out that “technology has been a partner, an enabler for the Obama campaign, bringing the efficiencies of the Internet into the real-world problems of organizing people in a distributed, trusted fashion.”
In the same way, 2012 could be the year that the mobile Internet defines the election — especially the types of new mobile technologies that make it possible for grassroots supporters to meet and coordinate in real-time. At tech conferences like SXSW in Austin, group messaging tools like GroupMe and Beluga (before it was acquired by Facebook) took off like wildfire as real-time communication tools for arranging impromptu meets and greets across Austin. These mobile apps made it possible for groups of smart phone users to connect in real-time by sending text messages to entire groups rather than individual users. Just a few months ago, GroupMe set up Featured Groups, which enable brands to utilize the app to create groups and engage fans in conversations. For example, Oxygen, MTV, Bon Jovi, Coachella and Bonnaroo have all created Featured Groups so that fans can receive highly targeted messages. What’s to stop politicians from creating these types of Groups for their supporters? Talk about grassroots organizing.
Of course, these group messaging apps will have the greatest impact if they can be combined with a way to raise money from supporters in an easy, seamless manner. This is increasingly becoming a reality as more people treat their mobile phones as payment devices — not just as communication devices. For example, mGive is one mobile solution that has shown the ability to raise money quickly from supporters of 501(c)(3) charitable organizations. You may not recognize the name mGive, but you will immediately recognize the premise: text a keyword to a certain number and your cell phone account automatically gets charged a certain amount for your donation.
Imagine what would happen if a team of mobile supporters could easily coordinate their actions in real-time in any city across America, at any stop of the presidential campaign, using a technology (i.e. texting) that most people already use… If presidential candidates could give a rousing speech at that location, and supporters could text money to the campaign in a few simple steps? It’s easy to see the allure of mobile as part of a grassroots organizing and fundraising campaign, especially since people now carry their mobile devices with them everywhere. Welcome to the first Post-Twitter, Post-Facebook Presidential Campaign. Instead of campaign slogans in 140 characters or less, we may soon be receiving mobile campaign fundraising appeals for 140 dollars or less.