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[BackChannel] The Frictionless Grassroots, Part 2

BY Chuck DeFeo | Friday, November 18 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 the first in this two-part series.

In part 1, I discussed Facebook’s expansion of the open graph and the new breed of “frictionless sharing” apps that are already being rolled out. Most of the early apps have been made by news media – using the new social actions Facebook has enabled (read, listened, etc.) to share what people are reading with their friends. The concept: I read an article on The Guardian’s Facebook app, and my Facebook friends see what articles I read automatically then read them as well.

Automatically leveraging the actions or experiences of others to create greater opportunity for a shared experience around a song, a news item, a book, or a video in real time, near real time, or even in a timeshifted way is the natural evolution of social media. (Turntable.fm is an early example of how addictive this experience can be.) It is also a natural partner to better integrating online word-of-mouth with offline political participation.

Creating this shared experience has been a strategy of online marketers for years. A recent success is the Dr Martens campaign in the UK where they asked people to share their first pair of Dr Martens’ shoes and a story behind their experiences. Not only did they create international buzz around the brand, the social conversation carried the brands values and identities very well (More here, with metrics). In a campaign like this the message and call-to-action are built around social. A campaign that integrates a frictionless sharing app can have a more traditional call-to-action without losing the word-of-mouth benefits that come from a social call-to-action campaign.

Politics, and particularly grassroots politics, has always been a relationship business. How should 2012 campaigns utilize frictionless sharing to encourage and grow grassroots activism?

One possible place to find a model is America’s largest retailer. Walmart has built one of the best customer-centric set of tab apps on Facebook. While their apps were launched prior to the F8 (Facebook’s developer conference) roll out of frictionless sharing, it is not hard to see how the open-graph can be leveraged from their model.

The “My Local Walmart” tab at the Walmart Facebook page quickly and easily connects customers with their local store and localized promotions. Someone simply needs to like the page, click the tab and enter their zip code to see a list of locations near them. Choose which location they prefer and the Walmart customer will find local promotions.

By the spring, most Americans should have a local party, state candidate or presidential candidate affiliated phone bank located in their county. A volunteer who is willing to show up at a phone bank or drive to that local office for a yard sign or bumper sticker represents the most committed of grassroots supporters. A Facebook app that integrates the most committed offline advocates with a frictionless online word-of-mouth campaign has significantly more potential to acquire more committed volunteers.

Here is how it could work. A volunteer accepts the candidate or political party’s app and gives permission for frictionless sharing. The app uses the data provided by Facebook to know the city and state this volunteer lives in. The person can either change the suggested location or accept it as their default. This default is then shared with their friends locally – the app can use the location data of that volunteers friends to only notify people in the same city and state.

Now that a location is set for the where this volunteer is located the Facebook app needs to connect them with offline opportunities to get involved. The campaign or political party would connect the app to its database of phone banks, organized door knocking activities and more. Invitations for up-coming volunteer activities would be sent through Facebook and email asking volunteers to RSVP. The act of RSVPing could be shared frictionlessly and trigger a post from your volunteer inviting friends locally to participate as well.

As I discussed in part 1, frictionless sharing creates a shared virtual experience among friends. Using this to create a real, offline shared experience – volunteering for a cause – not only delivers campaigns more active offline volunteers but creates a better volunteer experience because they are doing it with people they know. Connecting like-minded advocates for your cause and channeling them into productive participants of your grassroots efforts is always key in winning on Election Day. Frictionless sharing unlocks this in a way political campaigns have not seen before.

In part 3 of Frictionless Grassroots, I will discuss how frictionless sharing can be used online around similar topics and areas of interest to connect and mobilize online arm-chair activists.