The experiments that took place with Facebook and Twitter during the 2008 presidential campaign are now viewed as standard operating procedure just two years later. Will the same be said about location-based services come 2012?
Geo-social is very much in its early stages, with smaller adoption rates compared with Twitter and Facebook. But it’s still playing a role in this year’s elections. Several campaigns have been updating their status with their location in the hope of being seen as on the cutting edge with social media, and as a new way to interact with voters.
The Foursquarian Candidate
Following the news that Chicago Mayor Richard Daley would not seek re-election after more than 20 years in office, digital marketing company Proximity Chicago recently announced a contest to annoint a new mayor using Foursquare.
The Proximity office in downtown Chicago has been dubbed the City of Chicago Mayoral Headquarters. Now people can check in on Foursquare when they are in the vicinity. The more often they check in, the higher they rank. The person with the most check-ins by October 31 becomes the Foursquarian Mayor and receives marketing materials such as logos, slogans, bumper stickers and signage, among other support from Proximity, to actually stage a real run for the job as mayor of Chicago.
The current Foursquarian mayor is Rob Mowry, who over a recent three-day period checked into Proximity’s City of Chicago Mayoral Headquarters more than 50 times. Below is a look at some of the tweets and check-ins associated with the contest:
It’s a fierce competition and the fact that there are subtle ways of cheating your location means the contest is not without a hat tip to political traditions in Chicago.
“It’s still a new enough social media platform that it can be manipulated a little bit,” said Kevin Lynch, creative lead at Proximity Chicago, who is heading up the Foursquarian project. “It’s not truly a Chicago election without a little bit of controversy. This is in keeping with the established history of the city.”
Lynch said in a phone interview that ideally the contest will garner attention for an unknown candidate, or enable a well-known candidate to show constituents they understand how communications work circa 2010. So far Rahm Emanuel and other top tier candidates have not checked in.
The Geo-Social Campaign Toolkit
In terms of the larger political season, Foursquare has not released an official badge or program. This is despite an online lobbying effort for the company to develop an “I voted” badge. Gowalla, however, is off to the races with the 2010 campaign toolkit it released in August.
[Update Oct. 27: Foursquare today announced that users who check in using the hashtag #ivoted will unlock the “I Voted” badge. The company, who partnered with Rock the Vote, Pew Center, Google and others, will make the related information available on an online map with data gathered from 107,000 polling stations.
Foursquare wrote on its site that the I Voted data visualization and badge initiative are part of an effort to “encourage civic participation, increase transparency in the voting process and develop a replicatable system for the 2012 Presidential Election.” The map launches November 2nd.”]
“It’s fun, but also a lot of work,” Alejandro Garcia, Gov. Rick Perry’s campaign spokesperson, said in a phone interview. “Anything that we feel might be a good tool we try out. It’s sometimes hard to pinpoint what works.”
The candidates, along with their supporters, can create Gowalla events to check into, including rallies, town halls and other political happenings. Additionally, campaigns can create candidate pages with an open “follow” button on their Gowalla Passports. People that attend fundraisers, meetings and other events receive the candidate’s custom passport stamp for their Gowalla passport and an “I Voted” pin on election day.
Despite the buzz around geo-social, there isn’t a lot of check-in activity on Crist, Perry and Ward’s pages. (Rick Perry currently has 68 Gowalla followers, Charlie Crist has 55 and Jim Ward has 38.) Andy Ellwood, director of business development at Gowalla, said in a phone interview that activity in 2010 might be low, but the potential value for candidates could be significant.
“It’s not just an ‘I’m at Starbucks in Louisville,’ “ Ellwood said. “Candidates are pushing these types of initiatives [because] they don’t just want their supporters to say they are following them, but to say, ‘I’ve actually decided to use my time and my foot traffic to come out to an event that is specific to the way that I am going to vote in the elections.’ “
Some critics argue that it’s just too early for geo-social to make a big impact in the 2010 elections, and that the small number of early Foursquare and Gowalla adopters won’t likely reach enough voters to justify a campaign’s time and money.
All that suggests geo-social could still be a big thing come 2012.
Steven Davy is the web content editor at The World, a BBC,WGBH,PRI co-production. He is also the developer of Exploring Conversations, a multimedia website examining the language of music. He is the politics correspondent for MediaShift.