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Are Geolocation Apps a Fad or Are They Here to Stay?

Will Franklin, Director of New Media & Research, Texans for Rick Perry and guest blogger for Austin AMA.

Please welcome Will Franklin, guest blogger for Austin AMA and Director of New Media & Research for Texans for Rick Perry. Want to join in the debate? Join us on Thursday, Sept. 16 where he’ll be presenting “The Impact of New Media and Research in Political Marketing.”

Marketers, especially in politics, are always looking to stay on the cutting edge of the “next big thing,” and after the explosion of successful social media strategies in the 2008 election, no candidate wants to appear “Luddite-ish” or hopelessly old-fashioned. Some candidates, on the other hand, misguidedly believe social media is not only a magic bullet, but also a free magic bullet that will trump television and radio ads and may even earn huge sums of money along the way.

Sounds a little bit like what caused the dot com bubble to burst nearly ten years ago.

In politics, there is a strange common wisdom that quickly settles in after one side wins and the other side loses. Everything the winning side did was right, and everything the losing side did was wrong. The winners are prophets and geniuses, and that prophetic genius is universalized across everything they did or did not do throughout the campaign. Errors and mistakes are overlooked. Accidental successes are rewritten as tactical, visionary decisions made by brilliant masterminds.

Let’s not take anything away from the Obama campaign’s tremendous success online and elsewhere, but the reaction to the 2008 election offers a glimpse at how political marketers often chase the blueprint from the last campaign.

Never mind that Barack Obama, with his millions of Twitter followers, admitted, “I have never used Twitter” in 2009 to a group of Chinese youth while in Shanghai. The Obama social media presence in 2008 dwarfed the McCain presence in size, scope, and quality. While the McCain campaign employed a handful of people to push out content online, the Obama campaign famously employed dozens of staffers just to maintain his social media presence across the web. Whether that staffing imbalance was the result or the cause of Obama’s complete domination in fundraising (Obama raised roughly three times the cash that McCain raised) is the ultimate chicken/egg argument in political circles.

In 2010, geolocation apps like Foursquare and Gowalla, which allow GPS-enabled mobile users to “check in” at spots, are emerging as the latest and greatest social media platforms. In a sense, they are virtual clipboards for sign-ins at events. Some restaurants and coffee shops offer discounts for people who check in. These apps are growing, but compared to Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, they are only reaching a narrow audience of relatively early adopters.

Are geolocation apps a fad, or are they here to stay? My hunch is that they are not a fad, but they may not pay dividends for political campaigns until that critical mass of people becomes comfortable using them. In the meantime, as with all social media platforms, early adopters are rewarded with more followers, friends, and connections, so why not give them a go? Campaigns that can creatively leverage even just their small but loyal followings into real life action (votes, volunteer hours, etc.) will continue to have an edge over those who cling to marketing strategies that data show are increasingly wastes of resources.

About Will Franklin

Will currently serves as Director of New Media & Research at Texans for Rick Perry. He guides a team that crafts online messaging, directs online fundraising, and engages supporters in grassroots efforts for Texas Governor Rick Perry’s 2010 re-election campaign. In December of 2004, Will began writing at the award-winning WILLisms.com, still “the Classiest Blog Around.” To date, WILLisms.com has received more than 2.8 million visits and 4.2 million page views.

Will graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a B.A. in Government/History, and later, from the University of Houston with a Master’s Degree in Political Science (Public Policy/American Government/Comparative Politics). Will has a wife named Kristel and a Weimaraner named Heidi. They live in Austin.

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