Republican Digital Shop Takes Foursquare-Style Social Games to Politics

Political campaigns are stuck on Facebook, and one Washington, D.C.-based digital consultancy aims to help them put engagement on the social site to use in more ways than simply collecting “likes.” Republican agency Engage has developed a set of tools for combining Facebook, social games, and Foursquare-style action-based incentives to driven online and offline activism.

Corporate brands from restaurants to retailers have taken to Foursquare, Gowalla, and other location-based services to capitalize on the check-in fad, awarding consumers with special symbols displaying their visitation prowess, and often with discounts or freebies. Engage’s Multiply product isn’t exactly a check-in service, but it takes a cue from those mobile-centric loyalty programs to build community and inspire activism for door-to-door canvassing, fundraising events, get-out-the-vote efforts, and other key activities driving political campaigns. The tools allow campaigns to attach a system for awarding prize points and badges to their sites, and connect with Facebook’s social graph to encourage sharing among supporters’ social networks.

The notion of awarding incentives to super-supporters is nothing new. The Democratic and Republican parties, as well as individual campaigns often honor their big fundraisers – if not just with cool names and bragging rights, than with parties or other prizes.

The tool helps campaigns track individual volunteer actions, virtual and in-person – from sharing a link on Facebook or donating cash to door-knocking. “The actions that score points and the number of points are flexible from organization to organization,” said Mindy Finn, a partner at Engage. Staffers can make note of who performs a real-world task and upload that information to the system, which in turn awards points. “For example, if there was a phone bank at headquarters, [you could] award 50 points to anyone who attended,” said Finn.

While points and badges are rewards for volunteers, data is the primary reward for campaigns. As the Multiply page on Engage’s site states, “User scores let you target your supporters by likelihood to take action – tied to their phone number, email, and Facebook ID.” The firm is pushing its Data Manager upgrade, which allows campaigns to “collect form data on your site and score every single action or form submission.” Part of the Engage pitch also involves volunteers registering with Multiply.

“I am very excited to use this for some of my political clients,” said Jordan Raynor, president of Direct Media Strategies, a firm that does work for Republican campaigns. “I love the way Engage is attempting to help campaigns capitalize on the gaming trend we are seeing in social media,” added Raynor, who is working with Engage on a separate project.

Engage, which has made a company mantra of using technology to improve political campaigning and internal campaign operations, developed the Multiply system in-house, according to Finn.

“Engage are trying to find tools that take advantage of the medium – not just repeating practices that have become established with television or mail, the mainstays of political messaging,” said Chris Nolan, co-founder of San Francisco-based, a political content syndicator that also provides online media services to political campaigns.

“You can also look at what Engage is doing as a way of replicating what more industrious consultants have done through the years. Building web-based tools or building apps for political causes and campaigns isn’t that different from the mail guy who owns a print shop or the media consultant who runs a production house,” added Nolan.

Engage is not the first to tie social competition to advocacy. About a year ago, with the help of David All Group – another D.C.-based digital agency serving Republicans – the College Republican National Committee launched a site aimed at squashing President Obama’s healthcare reform program. The Operation Waiting Game site asked supporters to take actions, racking up points for doing things like posting an article link to Facebook or Twitter or signing an online petition.

Geo-social check-in service Gowalla has also connected its tools to politics. It recently introduced a political category for its “Passport Holders” to create events in the system associated with election campaigns and advocacy-related events. The goal is to show the momentum behind a candidate when people display the emblems through their Gowalla pages, or through integrations with Twitter and Facebook. Gowalla said yesterday it will connect its system to Facebook Places, the social giant’s location-based offering, launched Wednesday.

When asked about the potential for integrating location-based functionality with Multiply – possibly through Facebook’s just-launched system, Finn responded, “Multiply was built with the future in mind, with flexibility to rollout apps and integrate with the popular social networks as they innovate and change.”

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