A big transformation is occurring in three phases, according to NationBuilder’s Green. First candidates started getting their own websites, like Bill Clinton did in 1992; second, they started using online tools to get people to do traditional campaign tasks online: Online fundraising is by now a proven commodity, for instance. The third, Green said, will come later, when campaigns are enabled entirely online.
Online relationship building, through email and social networking sites, continues to grow. Facebook’s privacy settings allow candidate apps, such as those by President Obama and challenger Mitt Romney, to access and keep Facebook’s members’ information, such as name, gender, religious and political views and photographs. What’s more, they can post status updates, notes, photos and videos on behalf of their app users.
When Micah L. Sifry, co-founder and editor of the Personal Democracy Forum, presented as part of a panel at the South by Southwest festival in March this year, he called this process “Facebookization.” “And to be clear,” he said, “it includes more than just the Facebook data; it includes all of the data exhaust that people share about themselves that the campaigns are trying to vacuum up. This isn’t something ordinary people can do — unless you know not only how to code apps, but also how to spot patterns in the resulting data.”
Use of Facebook, he said, is not about broadly segmented advertising. It’s about “campaigns’ ability to access their supporters’ social graph, mine them for insights and then presumably make sophisticated and targeted use of word-of-mouth networks,” Sifry said.
What’s starting to change now is the accessibility of these systems, applications and technology to lower-budget campaigns at the state and local levels. Cost, along with aggregation and keeping up with a multitude of different sites and platforms, have presented challenges. But the introduction of offerings like NationBuilder to the market opened up a new arena. For as little as $33 a month, a candidate gains a custom website; people database; leaderboards that recognize top supporters; integrated communication via email, text, voice, Facebook and Twitter; real-time activity streams; fundraising; and volunteer coordination. What’s more, NationBuilder is highly customizable without a line of code. It was designed for people with no tech background to be up and running within minutes.
“The Internet is as much about content as it is people. If you can empower organizing, you can change who gets elected and how,” said NationBuilder’s Green.
Torpey used NationBuilder during his campaign and continues to use it as a governance tool. “I think most people running for office are realizing the value in not just online media, but advanced micro-targeting, massive data mining, mobile apps and crowdsourcing ideas and energy,” he said. “We’re seeing people build on a lot of the tools that are available, which is decreasing their price and increasing their accessibility.”
For current elections, everything is going mobile, localized, social, geospatial and getting more sophisticated. The advantage is that candidates can really know who they’re talking to at a much deeper level than before.