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With New Facebook App, The Search For The Radiohead Republican Is On

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Thursday, April 19 2012

Engage and the Winston Group launched "Trendsetter" Thursday, an app that seeks to help pollsters discover key voter attributes.

A Republican polling firm and interactive agency launched a new Facebook app on Thursday that they hope will enable Republicans to get information on voters who are disappearing from the radar screens of traditional pollsters.

The new app, called Trendsetter, enables its users to measure their influence on Facebook, and to answer polling questions related to politics, linking the cultural attributes of those users to their political leanings. Of course it's a social application, so users will be able to compare their results to those of their friends.

Engage launched the Facebook app in conjunction with the Republican polling and strategic communications firm the Winston Group, which just ended a stint on Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign.

The firms aim to use the app to find out more about potential voters -- who are becoming increasingly hard to reach by phone. Political campaigns have traditionally used polls conducted by phone to hone their marketing messages, and to find out what's important to voters.

"I think this is a way to understand a generation of people who live on social networks," says Kristen Soltis, a vice president at The Winston Group. "I think that something we'll find that will likely be surprising to many, but won't be surprising to me, is we'll find that a lot of young supporters of Republican candidates tend to have tastes that one wouldn't necessarily associate with your typical picture of a college Republican type of kid."

For users, the app measures Facebook activity and level of influence on others. It will also try to measure how interactive users are on Facebook, says Patrick Ruffini, Engage's president. For the Winston Group, it means access to a cross-section of user data — the app asks for access to Facebook likes, news feeds, basic biographical data and friend lists.

“I’m hoping that this will give us a much better picture of what people are thinking cross referenced against any number of data points," Ruffini said in an interview. "That could have an impact on media-buying strategy, on what kind of outreach you do on a campaign. There are also deeper questions you may want to ask down the road.”

The Winston Group hopes to use Trendsetter as an experimental tool to figure out how to use social network data on Facebook to target potential voters.

This kind of information may be helpful to downballot campaigns on a tight budget, Soltis said.

“If I can understand interesting little niche audiences, and unorganized constituencies and target them based on things that are not based on their political likes and dislikes, but their cultural likes and dislikes, that may open up a whole new world of less expensive, but highly-targeted advertising that could allow me to stand out rather than advertising through traditional means,” she said.

Ruffini says that the tool isn't meant merely to find out who the most influential people are, but is an attempt to discover the attributes of the average person on Facebook and understand how to market to a wider swath of people.

It's something that's meant to figure out what moves voters, something that Ruffini has been thinking about since at least 2007.

“Do Mitt Romney supporters like a certain type of music, or a certain type of movie while Obama fans tend to gravitate toward different kinds of artists and TV shows?” Soltis asked. Finding that out could help campaigns launch campaigns against those artists on emerging platforms like Pandora or Spotify.

With Trendsetter, both the Winston Group and Engage hope to find out.