Between texting and tweeting, technology is handing the political campaigns of 2012 a range of new ways to raise money and reach voters.
But unlike the 2008 presidential election, which first saw the explosive growth of Facebook and the emergence of Twitter, 2012 promises to be marked less by game-changing technology than by mor- advanced ways of using those tools, a panel of political and tech experts said on Tuesday at an event sponsored by Broadband Breakfast.
“This time, we have nothing [new] quite like Twitter or Facebook like last election,” said Stephen Greer, a former Obama 2008 campaign staffer and current partner with the communications firm OMP, which contracts with many advocacy groups and super PACs. Instead, he said, the digital side of political campaigns is maturing and will be conducted on a more professional scale.
Spending on online advertising is expected to reach new heights -- as much as 25 percent of campaign ad spending, Greer predicted -- but many of the potentially most potent new tools remain untested.
Both President Obama and presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney's campaigns are seeking to amass and harness troves of data to better target voters and donors.
But in many cases, it's often not worth it to spend time and effort tailoring messages to individual donors, especially when more-traditional methods like e-mail remain more effective, said Ryan Meerstein, a senior political analyst for Targeted Victory, which works with the Romney campaign.
“The bottom line is that 90 percent of the money is going to be raised through e-mail and search advertising,” he said. For fundraising, at least, Meerstein said he doesn't see any new technology soon supplanting e-mail as the dominant tool.
And Greer agreed. “E-mail remains the story in online fundraising,” he said.
The presidential campaigns have their eyes on practically every new digital tool, from a service announced on Tuesday to allow people to donate over Twitter to a recent Federal Election Commission decision to allow donations by text message, which could open doors to new donor populations such as Hispanics.
Meerstein said that mobile features such as Facebook have seen success, but there are many lingering unanswered questions about fundraising from mobile devices. “Mobile’s definitely still a tough nut to crack,” he said.
Advertising so far this election season has been largely aimed at raising money or gathering voter information. But Greer said that the campaigns will soon shift to more “persuasive” advertising aimed at winning support.
Unlike financial appeals, which campaigns have found can be relatively broadly tailored, ads aimed at inspiring people to volunteer or to get out to vote can be more effective if narrowly targeted, Greer said.
That’s where people like Jamie Smolski come in. As a member of Facebook’s U.S. Government and Politics team, Smolski focuses on helping Republican candidates use the social network. Other Facebook employees assist Democratic candidates.
She said that, in theory, if all the fans Obama has on Facebook shared campaign information with their friends, the president could reach more people than who voted in recent elections.
“What matters is engagement,” she said at Tuesday’s panel discussion. If anything, she said, the developments in targeted ads and other content should be a boon to social-media users who will see things that they care about.