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[BackChannel] The Frictionless Grassroots, Part 1

BY Chuck DeFeo | Thursday, November 3 2011

techPresident's Backchannel series is an ongoing conversation between practitioners and close observers at the intersection of technology and politics. Chuck DeFeo has worked on three presidential campaigns including serving as e-Campaign Manager for Bush-Cheney '04 and is credited with building Townhall.com, one of the largest conservative communities online. The last Backchannel piece was from the Center for American Progress' Alan Rosenblatt.

When Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook is actively using the open graph to encourage a new form of “frictionless sharing,” there was the usual variety of reactions that tend to happen with Facebook product announcements – from the giddiness of a shiny new toy, the inquisitiveness of marketers evaluating the potential, and the usual outrage of privacy advocates.

Zuckerberg discussed at a minimal level the impact this could have on several media industries such as music, books, news, movies, television, etc., but I have yet to read a discussion of what this could mean for grassroots activism – around a cause or a candidate.

So what is “frictionless sharing”? Simply put, after initial permission is given by an individual, Facebook and the app they are using can share an individual’s actions with their “friends” on Facebook in real time or in aggregate at a later time. This sharing on Facebook can happen in the news feed, ticker, or notifications.

An example that was rolled out with Facebook’s announcement is the Washington Post’s social reader that is an app inside Facebook. When I read an article inside the Post’s Facebook app, it is posted to my timeline, displayed to my “friends” who are also using the app that I read that article and an aggregate of the articles I read is placed in the newsfeed for my Facebook “friends” to see. Other sites like Yahoo News reader have embedded this Facebook functionality and experience into their website.

As Facebook continues to propel us into a society of personal sharers -- who we are as individuals or possibly who we would like people to see us as is becoming more accessible. This level of transparency and connectivity is a marketer’s and a grassroots organizer’s dream come true.

Now with our actions (not just our active, conscious choice to “Like” something) we will be publicly endorsing an artist, a television show, product ... and candidate or cause. The scope of communication expands once again and just as importantly the depth of commitment to that product or cause is going to be better measured. “Liking” a brand page is one level of support, continually engaging with that brand and allowing your engagement to be shared continuously to your Facebook “friends” will demonstrate a person’s passion and level of commitment to that brand.

Spotify’s relationship with Facebook has the potential to disrupt the music industry as much as the launch of the iPod and iTunes had roughly a decade ago. Why does it represent that level of disruption? Because it returns us to the social and emotional experience that for the decades prior to earbuds was so important to the music industry: real-time sharing and a shared music experience among friends. Only with Facebook it will become the serendipity of seeing a friend listening to a song and choosing to listen/download that song as a result instead of sitting next each other or sharing a bootleg CD. If Spotify users cotton to using its Facebook app because it makes their music experience social in a better way, older platforms like iTunes may well be in trouble.

What is the potential for bringing a similar (not the same but similar) shared social and emotional experience that comes with involvement in a candidate or cause? Seeing a friend listening to a candidate speech, watching an online video, signing a petition—all seamlessly. Imagine an Obama or Republican candidate Facebook app that lets your friends know when you’re interacting with the candidate’s website or in a Facebook app (like the Washington Post’s social reader and others) taking an action, and how that might intensify your friends’ interest in that candidate as a result.

Someone not quite paying attention may ask: Why would you want frictionless? Politics is an industry built on friction and contrast. For those paying attention it represents an important opportunity for the 2012 election cycle. It is an opportunity for your best possible surrogates to be on message, spreading your message effortlessly and continuously.

Nielsen conducted a study that included questions on the level of trust consumers have in the sources of marketing messages they receive. Seventy-six percent trust -- 18% “completely trust” -- a “recommendation from people (they) know. ” Only 3% have any level of “distrust” from what is recommended by people they know, a 73-point differential in favor of word-of-mouth marketing. Search engine text ads, the most common form of reaching people who may be interested in your campaign or cause have a 21% level of trust.

Source: Nielsen

Now, as Ogilvy’s John Bell points out, there is still an important role for advertising as it is the neutral point where companies (or causes) “introduce ourselves.” In 2012, the campaign that successfully introduces itself most frequently and effectively but from a better starting point of trust through frictionless sharing experiences through Facebook will be the frontrunner in the use of digital media and most likely leading in the polls as well.

In my next post, I will discuss what a frictionless campaign could look like and what the potential is for voter engagement at various levels. In the meantime, feel free to share this and start the discussion on what you think it could like and who is best positioned in 2012 to take advantage of open graph.