I recently checked my email inbox and found a message from Mitt Romney. While I would like to say I was surprised, I wasn’t. I knew this was coming. While writing my previous blog post I downloaded Mitt’s VP app. I signed in and the digital door was wide open. Once the campaign had my email address they had me on the digital hook, and more importantly the fundraising target on my back grew exponentially.
In 2008, the Obama campaign raised a whopping $778,642,962, the most in presidential campaign history. This number is staggering not only because of its gargantuan size, but also because 30 percent of the donations were by individuals making contributions in $1-200 increments, the most in recent history. Traditionally, this group has been the most difficult from which to raise funds, but not for Obama. Social media tactics implemented by his ahead-of-the-curve digital marketing team drove a massive amount of supporters to Obama’s campaign website, encouraging them to sign up for updates and personal messages from the campaign and Obama himself, and most importantly to donate any amount of money possible – small or large.
Back to my email from Mitt Romney. My first thought might have been, “How did Mitt Romney and his campaign get my email address?” However, step one when opening up Mitt’s VP app is to sign in with either a Twitter, Facebook or email account. The Trojan horse was right in front of me the whole time. Once I entered my information into the app, I was on their radar; my every digital move tracked, collated, analyzed and used to reach and communicate with me most effectively in an effort gain my support – and the support of my bank account.
This is where things get interesting. Let’s assume you sign in with your Twitter or Facebook account. Not only can the campaign contact you through your associated email address, but they collect various non-personally identifiable data including: IP host address, browser type, computer operation system, date and time of an ad request, and Internet Service Provider details. This information is also collected when you access the app or website from your mobile phone, providing your location and a wealth of information about your daily habits.
This is the holy grail of campaign data. With your email address the campaign can email you regularly, and through Twitter and Facebook they can continue personalized outreach and even interact with you. Currently, this is all pretty standard for any marketing effort and both presidential campaigns have mastered it, raising funds to historic new levels.
Recently, the media reported that Romney’s campaign had employed high-tech data analysis to search out potential big money donors not yet in their campaign database. Essentially, the campaign is legally purchasing datasets to search out individuals with excess income and soliciting them to make a contribution of $2,500 or more. This is the first reported instance of this traditionally corporate tactic in politics, and it is paying off. Romney has led Obama in campaign fundraising for the months of May, June and July, something that following Obama’s historic fundraising of 2008, and proceeding the 2012 campaign would have been scoffed at by any political pundit.
This begs the question: What technology will be used next to gain a political edge? What if data collected through social media told the campaign that you live in San Francisco, Calif., and visits and movement around a candidate’s website and app tracked visitors’ specific interests. If this information were put together, the campaign could contact you with an email tailored around your unique interests. Take the scenario a step further: Our mobile phones, through Siri and context rendering services, are increasingly aware of what we are doing and our location. What if you checked in on Foursquare at the local car dealership as you excitedly shopped for a new car, and moments later received a text message from a presidential candidate telling you that due to his opponent’s policies the federal sales tax on your car purchase would be far greater than if he or she were president…“Reply Here to Donate.”
As the role of technology in political campaigns grows it will increase the rate at which campaign communication and fundraising tactics evolve. Four years ago social media revolutionized the way campaigns communicated with voters and raised funds. This year random datasets are being purchased and analyzed to discover potential big-ticket donors. When the political machine gears back up in 2016, how will technology shape the way candidates run for president in the U.S.? What budding technology are we seeing today that will mature and be harnessed to reimagine the way campaigns interact with the public of tomorrow?