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The only question hotter right now than which Republican candidate will face President Obama in the 2012 election is: What new technology will define the race?
Next years candidates will be expected to increase their digital presences beyond major platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and the presidents social network, My.BarackObama.com (MyBO). So, what channels are politico tech geeks watching?
With millions of potential voters using mobile devices, strategists would be remiss to write off QR codes as a risky early-adopter consumer trend untranslatable to the political space.
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What we notice in the political space is that its three to five years behind your normal corporate brand area, says George Alafoginis, a digital strategist for Washington D.C.-based New Media Strategies and former deputy director of new media for the Republican National Committee. One of the exciting things about 2012 is that we have the opportunity to close the loop between online activities and real-world events, he adds. Were seeing individuals rely on their phones, and QR codes present an optimal framework for that. Theres an opportunity for campaigns to reach out to mobile-savvy individuals and transmit a message that will lead to an activation.
There is great potential in branding candidates, fundraising and collecting supporters data using QR technology. Consider how its campaign implementation could yield results.
In 2008, the Obama campaign doubled down on its field operations. Using technology and MyBO, supporters were able to organize registration drives, canvas door-to-door to recruit potential voters, and phone bank from home. By the 2010 midterm elections, conservative organizers were using the Twitter hashtag #tcot, rumored to be the early rumblings of the Tea Party. They ultimately moved to organizing tools like MeetUp, which fueled their big ballot box wins in various Congressional races.
However, theres nothing like in-person interactions to attract new supporters. This cycle, QR codes could serve as an on-the-street campaign that instantly recruits supporters to rallies, speeches, visibility events and canvassing. The key is to make sure the QR code allows for action such as connecting with a supporter in another state, pledging to canvass or phone bank, engaging candidates or celebrity surrogates, or receiving cool merch.
The spotlight was on small donors throughout the 2008 fundraising effort. These donations were largely collected via email solicitation. Imagine how this type of outreach could be bolstered via real-life interaction.
Formerly, a canvasser would target a neighborhood, campus or street festival, and ask for supporter pledge cards. He or she would assume responsibility for collecting and delivering those funds. Instead that canvasser could solicit $5 donations via a direct mobile QR transaction. The experience would also be social: the contributor instantly shares her donation across social networks and encourages friends to match her donation.
Candidates should tack a QR code to their yard signs, bumper stickers, T-shirts and other physical campaign promotions. Like past inclusion of Twitter and Facebook handles on promotional materials, by election day 2012, QR codes will be a cultural norm.
Why not make cross-promotion more personalized and action oriented? If college kids are heading to a football game, they could be waving team pendants that sport candidate QR codes, not to mention posting pictures on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Gowalla, etc. By regionalizing the QR codes look and the reward, the merch turns making a statement into a measurable social action for like-minded individuals.
In several states, like Colorado, its possible to register to vote online. QR codes could be a valuable tool for campaigns looking to tap into voting blocs once thought difficult to reach. Think about it this way: Since 2008, about one-third of young voters have moved and need to re-register at a current address, according to U.S. census data. Likewise, research indicates that millions of highly-sought after Hispanic voters are accessing mobile devices.
Reaching out to these groups using viral QR code campaigns would make registration more accessible to potential supporters especially to those who grew up with iPhones, and therefore, may not even know how to register via snail mail. States with online registration policies will likely see an uptick in participation this cycle, but QR codes developed by campaigns and third-party advocacy groups like Rock the Vote and others, can maximize the tool to bolster awareness efforts.
While the measurable effectiveness of these opportunities remains relatively unproven for large-scale campaigns, were seeing candidates experiment with the potential. Consulting groups are popping up too, offering services aimed at political campaigns.
One thing is certain: The tech-fueled election of 2008 changed political campaigning forever. And even though the pace of change in developers garages far exceeds that of Washington, strategists know theyll need to take advantage of tech in 2012.
Both parties have done a good job of recognizing theres a shift in how we communicate and receive information, says Alafoginis, adding that he is advising his political clients to incorporate QR in their tactical arsenal. If Im running a campaign Im trying to use tools best suited to get my candidates elected.
Image courtesy of iStockphoto, 221A
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