Pokémon Go: How Candidates Are Using Tech To Reach Voters
Pokémon Go as the new phone banking: How Minnesota candidates are using technology to reach voters
Today, many people don’t have landline phones or cable subscriptions, so the usual tools employed to reach voters — phone banking or television ad buys — are far less effective than they once were. Young voters in particular — those between the ages of 18 and 29, an important if elusive block of the electorate — interact almost exclusively with their peers online or through their phones, on everything from Snapchat and Facebook to Twitter, Instagram and Vine.
And though most campaigns have by now figured out how to geographically target ads on Facebook or post sponsored content on Twitter and Instagram, such ads are becoming less effective as people are able to customize what they see online.
So instead of just creating targeted ads this cycle, candidates and political parties are now looking to utilize so-called social media “influencers,” people who have thousands of followers and elicit plenty of likes, interactions and shared content. By enticing influencers to share campaign content, thousands can see campaign ads right in their own feeds, brought to them by their friends, family and co-workers.
“Social network validation of candidates and messages is so important. It’s friends and family saying something or passing on important information,” Republican Party of Minnesota Chairman Keith Downey said. “That brings an extra degree of credibility. That is who people look to in the final weeks when they are thinking of who to vote for, who are my friends and family, and my co-workers say they are voting for?”
And new opportunities to reach voters can emerge suddenly. Pokémon Go, a location-based game where players walk around with their phones, was released right after the Fourth of July holiday and already has topped Twitter in daily users. The game also sees people spending more time in its app than in Facebook, and campaigns have been scrambling to find ways to harness its viral power.
“By the time a candidate or a party figures out how to take advantage of a new social media platform, it could be obsolete and people are on to something else,” Downey said.
DFL state Sen. Terri Bonoff, who is running in Minnesota's 3rd Congressional District this fall, used Pokémon Go to entice young volunteers to come door knocking. Bonoff staff set up a lure — a feature used in the game to draw players to a specific location — to bring volunteers to her campaign office. From there, they went out door-knocking across the suburban congressional district, catching Pokémon along the way.
“One of the things I’ve been surprised by is how many young people want to work on the campaign,” Bonoff said. “They just need that extra push. There is an understanding that I’m already with them on the issues they care about, things like freedom to marry, climate change and gun control.”
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