Friending Voters: RNC Launches Facebook App

May 1, 2012 1:55pm

The GOP has officially entered the world of “likes” and statuses.

The Republican National Committee on Tuesday unveiled a new Facebook app, which party staffers say will augment or replace traditional organizing elements and shoot the RNC ahead of Democrats in social-media presence. Dubbed the “Social Victory Center,” after the RNC’s “Victory Center” field offices in battleground states, the app functions as a minisite within Facebook, where users see news items and party materials, including Web ads, curated by RNC staff.

It works like social readers that have been adopted by media outlets to spread their content on the Web: when a user reads an article or signs up for an event, the RNC’s app will broadcast that activity to the user’s Facebook followers.

“The DNC and Obama’s campaign haven’t really integrated in to social with an app lice this on Facebook,” said Andrew Abdel-Malik of the RNC’s political department, at a roll-out briefing with reporters on Tuesday. ”We’re constantly amplifying lots of activity,” he said.

RNC Political Director Rick Wiley touted the ability to share news, information, and announcements across state lines. “You might have someone sitting in New York City, but they have relatives in Nevada,” he said. “All of a sudden their relatives know that early voting just went live in Clark County.”

To go with its new app, the RNC says it will deploy new-media directors to each battleground state, in part to fill the app’s state-specific pages with new content–a first for the RNC, according to Wiley.

It also solves a problem the RNC has: too many volunteers in noncompetitive states.

“We have people in these red or blue states, and in the past we didn’t have anything for them to do,” Wiley said. Now, Republican activists can phone-bank online, technology that campaigns have already deployed. The app will dial an activist’s phone upon request, then cycle them through an RNC call list of independent voters in nearby battleground states. It’s this function that RNC staffers seem most excited about.

Since 2004, Republicans have lagged behind Democrats in Internet savvy. Online organizing and donation were considered a strength for Obama’s 2008 campaign, and Howard Dean’s 2004 Democratic primary run is largely credited with pushing campaigns into the Internet era.

But the RNC has made online organizing a priority, beginning with its Ning-style website revamp in 2009 under the leadership of then-chairman Michael Steele. With that redesign, the RNC sought to incorporate social-media elements into GOP.com.

Facebook will, however, allow the RNC to solidify another competitive advantage it’s enjoyed in the last decade: microtargeting. After Democrats made strides in voter-data collection in 2008, the RNC says it will use Facebook data for some level of targeting.

“This gives us the ability for the first time to start connecting a lot of the data points that we have,” Abdel-Malik said. ”It opens up a new level that we haven’t been exposed to before.”

The RNC says its Facebook-data harvesting won’t be too deep, and will mainly consist of information users share in the app’s signup and profile-creation process. ”What you can pull and what we pull are two different things,” Abdel-Malik said, noting that, for instance, the RNC won’t collect data on its users’ relationship statuses.

But the more Republicans engage through the app, the more the RNC will be able to see about them. The level of data suggests the party will be able to use it for nuanced targeting on Facebook.

“Every article, every video, everything is tagged,” Abdel-Malik said. “We can start seeing my reading patterns, whether it’s the economy or education, we can see.”

But the ubiquity of shared material cuts both ways, one reporter pointed out: Facebook users with Republican friends can expect a fair amount of party-related posts cropping up in their news feeds, and, even in an election year, not everyone will be excited about that deluge.

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