Candidates and elected officials in New Jersey’s municipalities are proving that digital politics in the Garden State aren’t reserved for Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s Twitter account. Take recently-elected South Orange Village President Alex Torpey, who connected with future constituents by friending them on Facebook. Or Jersey City Councilman Steven Fulop (left), who used mobile tools and online ads to support a winning slate of Board of Education candidates in the Northern New Jersey city, helping build his own growing base of backers in preparation for the 2013 mayoral election in which he’s expected to run.
A month before the Jersey City Board of Ed election in April, the team asked 100 volunteers to enter the names of ten people likely to vote for their candidates into a mobile database system called Campaign Connect, which allowed them to add email addresses and link them with specific issues of interest. Forty volunteers added 1,000 leads that month, and the campaign later sent email reminders to the volunteers asking them to remind those people to vote.
“We wanted to make them accountable for a certain action,” said Candice Osborne, partner and CEO of C&S Strategies, the digital technology and consulting firm based in Jersey City that built the Campaign Connect system.
Fifty-six percent of those volunteer-provided voters came out to vote, as determined through voter records, according to Fulop’s Media Director, Kara Silverman.
To assist in the get-out-the-vote process, said Osborne, observers kept track of who voted via mobile devices or laptops, automatically updating the campaign database so volunteers knew not to bother contacting those who already voted.
The system allows Fulop and his team to tack on information gleaned from interactions with voters, petition drives, and events to more basic, publicly available voter file data. Marketing data purchased to enhance the voter file was deemed mostly “junk” by Osborne. “We want to go on our own, using volunteers and petitions. We’re getting better data there,” she said.
Initially, Osborne’s firm developed the system to assist the candidate himself, who needed a way to add information he gathers from speaking with potential supporters to a readily-accessible database. “He is very good at talking to people, but missed opportunities to store information,” said Osborne.
In addition to the mobile GOTV effort, the campaign bought inexpensive display ads on hyper local Jersey City sites including Jersey City Independent and JC List, home to a thriving forum for Jersey City denizens.
The campaign also had supporters tag friends to a vote-reminder graphic on Facebook the Monday before the Wednesday Board of Ed election. “We just bombarded social media [telling them], ‘These are the people you’re supposed to vote for,'” Osborne said.
Such tactics could greatly benefit reform candidates like Fulop, who hope to topple more entrenched officials like Jersey City’s current mayor Jerramiah Healy, who have existing communications channels.
Only around 370 people like Fulop on Facebook, and Osborne said she is working to grow that number. Fulop has around 860 followers on Twitter. Meanwhile, Healy, who is likely to be Fulop’s opponent in the next mayoral election, does not appear to have an official Facebook account, and an @MayorHealy account on Twitter has just a handful of tweets posted during the weeks leading up to the last Jersey City mayoral election in 2009.
Fulop, 34, plans to bolster his video efforts by responding to questions from voters via video posted on Facebook, said Osborne. The trend toward incorporating video both for campaigning and to update constituents is becoming more popular, particularly as people view more and more video on their mobile devices.
Video and Virtual Door Knocking in South Orange
About 15 miles west of Jersey City in South Orange, recently elected Village President Alex Torpey used video in his campaign to win his seat, and now updates citizens about meetings of the Board of Trustees through YouTube videos.
Torpey, a 23-year-old who runs his own digital consulting company, Veracity Media, relied mainly on his personal Facebook profile as a hub for his campaign, in addition to his AlexTorpey.com site. The South Orange election schedule only allowed for a month of campaigning, and while Torpey created a separate Facebook page for his campaign, he found it difficult to build a supporter base there, while his own personal page spawned much more interaction.
Torpey conducted what he calls “virtual door-knocking,” asking potential voters to friend him on Facebook.
And, similar to Fulop, he used a political data management platform called NationBuilder, which recently integrated national voter file data. Currently, his goal is to tie his campaign database to all communication points such as email and social media. “I’m trying to connect everyone through as many channels as possible,” he said.
As for paid online advertising, he did very little, choosing only to run ads on South Orange Patch, an AOL-owned site. All together, Torpey figures he spent just around $1,000 on his digital campaign, including his site and the ads. “Most of it was just doing the video, sending it out via email, putting it on Facebook, and blogging about it,” said Torpey.
Now, he’s applying his digital marketing skills for other elected officials, as well as candidates and non-profits, including NJ Assemblyman John McKeon, who is up for reelection in November.
The bulk of his campaign spending? Like most political campaigns, it went towards traditional channels, which in Torpey’s case meant printed campaign literature. His team had about 10,000 pieces printed in the month leading to the election for distribution at the train station and around town. Reportedly, Torpey won by a margin of just 14 votes.
“I don’t think we would have won leaving out a single thing,” he said.