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NGP VAN Releases Utility for Supporters to Turn Facebook Friends Into Voters

BY Miranda Neubauer | Tuesday, July 24 2012

NGP VAN has released a new tool built to allow a candidate's supporters contact the likely voters that they find among their Facebook friends.

The new tool is based on an earlier one that the company tested out in fall 2011 during the battle in Ohio over public sector unions, said Stuart Trevelyan, NGP VAN's CEO.

The updated platform with a new interface allows users to not just engage their friends with virtual phone banks, but also with e-mails, social sharing and e-postcards, he said, and integrates it with gamification options like points and badges.

Users can log into a candidate's website, such as the one for Rep. John Lewis' (D-Ga.) reelection effort, and connect their Facebook account. Users can then go to the site's online action center to start the matching process between Facebook and the voter file. The tool loads one friend at a time, with a loading process in between. The system uses a sophisticated matching algorithm, Trevelyan said, with proximity matching able to identify a potential voter who may claim to live in Atlanta but really live in a suburb. It'll also bring up multiple possible names if a user has a common surname.

The tool also asks users to describe their relationship with the person, whether it be friend, family member or co-worker, a detail that could be important for unions, and then stores all of that data in the campaign's voter file.

Campaign organizers can see connections entered into the voter file, but can't, for example, see the rest of a Facebook user's friends.

The tool also recommends who a user should contact by sorting his or her friends into groups, like persuadable voters, people who become volunteers and people who could become donors. It then suggests how to reach out to each group of people.

Information from those activities is also gathered, so when, for example, a friend indicates they support Lewis, he or she could hypothetically be removed from any separate lists of people to be canvassed.

As with any technology, it's not perfect. I used the tool on Lewis' website and it suggested someone whose name was very similar to the name of a friend who had recently moved to Georgia. Another friend, who lives out of state but grew up in Georgia and lists it as her home state on Facebook, didn't appear automatically but did when I looked for her by name.

And NGP VAN isn't the only game in town when it comes to this type of tool. Another service that offers similar functionality is Amicus, a startup with a utility to match Facebook friends with voter registration or commercial data. Amicus software saw use in Wisconsin during the effort to recall Gov. Scott Walker.

Seth Bannon, co-founder of Amicus, says his product can work more quickly and efficiently because it's built on newer application frameworks and database systems.

"No matter how robust or more sophisticated [your tool] is, if volunteers don't have a good time, it's useless, because they'll never come back," Bannon said. Amicus also allows users to make calls using a VoIP system similar to Skype, or to automatically schedule series of calls on any phone. Users can also send snail mail post-cards to their friends on behalf of the organization featuring their Facebook photo.

This post has been updated.