Columnist Josh Todd reflects on how the US presidential candidates could do a better job of utilizing mobile technology to engage their respective bases.
Politicians have always been scattershot in their outreach to voters. Presidential candidates distribute thousands of colorful lawn signs to be placed in yards across the country, buy millions of dollars’ worth of ad space and pack arenas full of their most fervent believers — all tactics to capture the highest number of eyeballs at the lowest possible cost.
In recent years, it’s gotten a little better. President Obama made huge strides with his digital team, pioneering never-before-seen outreach to new voter groups via social media and youth-friendly content platforms (ever seen his segment on “Between Two Ferns?”).
However, in this election cycle, as noisy as it’s been, I haven’t seen anyone innovate in the way they connect with voters like Obama did in 2008 and again in 2012 when he tapped into digital. This at a time when the capabilities offered by marketing technology have risen to new heights and mobile has become a critical part of most marketers’ strategies.
Where Trump and Clinton stand
Donald Trump has been declared by many as the reigning political king of social media. His Twitter account has an impressive 12.8 million followers, and each post’s engagement is through the roof.
He’s been able to strike chords with his base over Twitter and Facebook through his “straight talk,” but when it comes to his digital and mobile strategy, there’s far more he could be doing.
I tested out his “America First” app, which is largely a source of information on where Trump stands on various issues and a means to extend the reach of his popular social accounts. However, once the app is closed, the experience stops. I didn’t receive one push notification or email to drive me back into the app, so I found myself forgetting about it and finding my sources of news elsewhere. With a direct line into my pocket, it seems like a waste not to utilize it.
Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, has invested heavily in other aspects of digital presence and her digital team in general. The Hillary 2016 app chooses to harness gamification — rewarding users for completing tasks (taking a true/false test, signing a pledge to vote, inviting friends to download) by giving them fake “stars” to spend on swag in their virtual Hillary headquarters.
Critics have been quick to pounce on the app (some have called it “joyless”), but to me, it’s at least a step in the right direction. The app feels a little basic around the edges, but it provides a way for the Clinton team to reach voters right in their pockets. I tested it out for a few days, and once a day I received an email or a push notification alerting me to an activity or piece of content I could access within the app. Over at Localytics, we know a thing or two about push notifications, so I was excited to see the team harnessing them to reach voters.
However, after using both apps, I couldn’t shake the sensation that they were failing to harness the full power of mobile. Today, nearly anyone can make an app and get at least a few people to download it — the true challenge is building one that people actually keep coming back to. And that’s no easy feat, as our own research shows that nearly a quarter of app users will abandon an app after just one use.
Where they’re going wrong
While campaigns are typically great at collecting data through traditional methods (like phone surveys), they are failing to collect valuable data on voters through their apps — data which they could use to personalize and individualize voter interactions.
Backing up a bit, the basics of personalization are “profile information” and “behavioral information.” Many of the top brands we work with every day use both of these to drive targeted engagement strategies aimed at keeping customers and users engaged.
Profile information is compiled of the obvious stuff that the campaigns likely already have on file if you’re a voting citizen — gender, age, name, where you live and so forth. Behavioral information is a little more nuanced and likely provides the biggest area for growth for both of these candidates. It includes how often a user comes into an app, the messages they opened/responded to, what they clicked on while in the app and so on.
Each candidate’s app, while good in that they keep voters engaged with content, fails to collect behavioral information and use it to win over voters.
For example, I’m constantly reading articles about tuition and how out of control student debt is, and I would likely respond better to messages that are centered around that issue (and addressed directly to me). By collecting behavioral information through the app on people like me, both Trump’s and Clinton’s digital teams could craft notifications and emails that drive engagement up — citing specific political issues and stances that will drive me back to learn more about the candidate over and over.
Looking below, we can see that Clinton has taken the first steps with push notifications. I didn’t get any from Trump (yet), but they might be fewer and farther between. Looking at Clinton’s, it’s good that they are driving users back to the app to complete specific tasks each day, but they’re in no way individualized based on my name, age, location or interests.
You’re probably thinking,”The last thing I need is to hear more about this election — especially through push notifications that go right to my phone!”
However, by collecting more granular behavioral data on users through these new apps, Trump and Clinton alike can create individualized experiences that can make learning about the issues if not more enjoyable, then at least more relevant to you.
In an election that’s as contentious as I can remember, using mobile to make deep connections with users and mobilize their respective bases seems like an obvious step toward securing victory.
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