Why Location-Based Services Will be the Killer App of the 2012 Elections
The last presidential election was only three years ago, but that seems like a generation in the social media age.
Just think, back then Twitter was a novelty. Facebook was popular but spent the first half of the year being the second-biggest social network behind MySpace. U.S. smartphone penetration in the U.S. was just 20% by the close of 2008 vs. a projected 50% by the end of this year. The biggest political marketing innovator in 2008 was Barack Obama, who employed Facebook, Twitter and other social networks to great effect, and took Howard Dean’s online micro-donation idea to the next level.
Obviously, 2012 will be a different landscape for several reasons, but the biggest is the ascendance of mobile and, in particular, location-based services. Up until now, such services have been a curiosity driven by early adopters who have no issues about broadcasting their whereabouts to the whole world. In a nation of 310 million people, this is still a niche market. The biggest of the services, Foursquare, has about 8 million users, which is respectable but not mass.
Part of the issue is a lack of purpose for the activity. Let’s face it, being mayor of your local Chinese food joint has limited appeal.
All that could change in the coming election. In this deeply polarized nation, a fair amount of people care about who wins in November 2012, which gives them a reason to make sure their like-minded friends hit the polls. Until now, the only way you could do that was to drive them there yourself.
Imagine, however, a grass roots organization that depended, in part, on committed volunteers who were charged with getting as many people in their Facebook and Twitter networks to commit to vote. Then, when Election Day rolls around, they can prove that they at least got those people to go to their local polling places. Finally, a scientific way to prove political marketing efficacy.
The infrastructure is already in place for such a plan. Thanks to a nonpartisan, get-out-the-vote effort in 2010, Foursquare made it possible to check in at any of the country’s polling places and then broadcast it. Of course, Foursquare’s not the only game in town; Facebook Places lets you check in at the polls and tell all your Facebook friends about it.
That ability — to check in to a physical location and thus bridge the offline and online world — didn’t really exist in 2008 and could be a game changer in the coming election. The major challenge for political marketing has always been getting voters to actually go to the polls. In the past, get-out-the-vote campaigns have consisted of a combination of door-to-door, telephone and snail mail reminders. For a portion of the population –- say those over 65 or so -– this will still have to be the case, but for younger voters, an email plus a pledge to vote -– to be verified with a location-based check-in, will do.
Some politicians are already seeing the potential of LBS. It’s unclear at this point whether Obama’s campaign will lean heavily on such services, but likely Republican candidate Tim Pawlenty’s campaign is already awarding points and badges to supporters a la Foursquare.
Will it work? Don’t underestimate the value of peer pressure. On November 6, 2012, everyone will know if you actually voted. Not doing so will effectively disqualify you from kvetching about either political party. At that point, being a voter may trump being a mayor.