Many political and advocacy campaigns have begun to incorporate mobile elements such as mobile sites, SMS, and apps. However the channel has not been universally embraced by new media political consultants – and has even raised some hackles among those who see it as a costly distraction from their bread and butter Internet efforts.
“What I’ve found is that a large portion of new media folks view mobile as [something flashy],” said Kevin Bertram, CEO of Distributive Networks, a mobile marketing firm that does work for Democratic campaigns and corporate advertisers. Because SMS text messaging programs, and development of mobile applications and sites “have fairly high upfront costs, new media consultants are definitely choking at the costs associated with them,” he said.
Compared to setting up a Twitter account or Facebook page, for example, “Setting up a short code, setting up a platform – it’s a much more significant cost and effort and I think there’s resentment because new media was the red headed stepchild for so long and now that it’s finally getting some respect, people don’t want to give up those hard earned dollars.”
While he recognizes such financial considerations as “very reasonable,” Bertram said, “I think that it’s happening to the degree that it harms the candidates.”
Still, some online political consultants say they have no problem with digital dollars being used on mobile efforts.
“I think campaigns should include mobile in their marketing campaigns and that both desktop and mobile provide valuable opportunities for pushing campaign messages,” said Eric Frenchman, chief Internet strategist at Republican online consulting firm Connell Donatelli. “Any of my major clients that are seeing success, I do recommend mobile,” he continued.
“People who care about their clients definitely are embracing mobile,” admitted Bertram. Yet, he explained that when channels like e-mail and Twitter are relatively inexpensive, costs associated with things such as SMS messaging sometimes are a concern.
For example, During a panel discussion on mobile at last week’s American Association of Political Consultants conference, he suggested that setting up a mobile short code for messaging opt-in subscribers isn’t appropriate for all campaigns.
“If you’re on a smaller race, the cost is too prohibitive,” said Bertram, adding, “If your state party is having like-minded groups on the same short code, or something like that, that will work. But if you’re running a statewide race, there’s absolutely no reason not to spend 1,000 a month.”
“It takes away dollars… I can see why people might be resentful about that,” said Katrin Verclas, co-founder and editor of MobileActive.org, a network of practitioners using mobile for social impact. “Mobile is still fairly expensive, and there’s an investment that might not show immediate return…however innovation and new ideas can’t happen without risk.”
“Mobile hasn’t proven that it can be tied to a conversion outside of a rapid response event like Haiti,” said Mark Skidmore, director of advertising and promotion at Blue State Digital. “There’s definitely apprehension, but we’re all going to have to figure it out.”
By promoting short codes, political campaigns can build lists of mobile supporters for use down the road in volunteer communications or Get-Out-The-Vote. The Scott Brown for Senate campaign built up a mobile list and used it to text supporters every time Brown or his opponent were guests on talk radio, prompting them to click to easily call the shows and voice their support for Brown.
One thing they haven’t used short codes very much for yet is fundraising – a key goal of most online ad campaigns for candidates or issue advocacy groups. While charities can set up short codes to collect small donations, carriers do not allow political campaigns or other partisan organizations to use them for fundraising, mainly because of regulatory concerns.
But candidates can enable donations via PayPal through mobile applications. Some also have experimented with routing calls from donors to a call center ready to accept credit card information over the phone.
Republican California candidates including Senate hopeful Chuck DeVore and State Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher currently offer mobile campaign apps developed by app development firm PurpleForge. According to John Craig, Purple Forge VP sales and marketing, app development can start at around $2,500. But apps may not be right for all candidates, said Bertram, who believes they only reach a narrow segment of voters who can afford smartphones.
Mobile display and search advertising as an extension of online ad campaigns could be a starting point for some campaigns hoping to reach mobile users. Frenchman said most campaigns don’t have adequate advertising presences in desktop and mobile. “I’d recommend that campaigns should maximize desktop and mobile spends,” he said.
“From my perspective, it’s a no brainer that anybody doing new media advertising is going to have to get into mobile advertising,” said Skidmore. “It’s going to be a huge component of the next election and 2012.”
Follow Kate Kaye on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.
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