Reading Review: Harbath and Stein

It appears that the future of advocacy campaigning is mobile technology–both Harbath and Stein convincingly argue as to why. First, as Harbath points out in “The Rise of Mobile,” it is important to remember that the phrase “mobile technology” is a catch-all for many different types of apps that have many different types of uses–mobile technology is more and bigger than just text messaging. Secondly, although the iPhone app that Harbath created for a Republican senator’s campaign wasn’t used as much for uploading and sharing user content as she would have liked, people did use it thousands of times in a few short months to look up information about the candidate, to watch videos about the candidate, and to inquire as to how they could donate to the campaign. Clearly therefore, mobile technology is an avenue of campaign-consumer engagement that campaign committees should invest in and explore. This is especially true considering that Harbath claims that in 2012, more smartphones are due to be shipped than PCs.

Mobile technology has multiple applications–it’s a way for campaign followers to stay active and informed, it’s a way for people to communicate directly (two-dimensionally) with the campaigns they support. Moreover, despite the fact the FEC doesn’t currently let campaigns fundraise through text messaging, Harbath predicts there will soon be discovered an easy loophole that enables campaigns to do just that–to raise a lot more money if they can only harness the ability to mobilize their audience(s). Today, the best and most user-friendly websites today have pre-prepared set-ups for different browsers, different resolutions, different operating systems and different platforms, from laptop to tablet. In my second semester in CCT, in our mandated “Fundamentals of Technology” course, I was the web designer of an ambitious web project, and one of the core challenges was ensuring that multiple versions of our website existed for the multiple ways in which people could potentially view it. Now, mobile devices are a platform worth pre-planning for.

Both Harbath and and Stein point out the nanotargeting capabilities of mobile technology. Harbath relates that while, in a general sense, the response generated by the mobile technology leg of his senator’s campaign was underwhelming (if not positive), she saw the best results when iPhone users were the supporters directly targeted with text messages. The seeming moral of this story feels obvious but points to an important truth about technology–messages are most effective when concentrated on the people most likely to agree or be receptive to them, and messages deployed in a specific technological way are most effective when concentrated on people who use that technology. Instead of disturbing users of a demographic not likely to appreciate mobile technology, Harbath’s campaign ultimately focused on iPhone users, who ended up being the most responsive.

The most encouraging fact is that, as Stein notes in “Using Mobile Phones in Advertising Campaigns,” mobile technology enables faster and more effective nanotargeting because mobile devices are small, portable, user-friendlier than PCs, and can converge with lots of different media. In many countries, mobile technology is the cheapest and easiest way of having a phone. This perhaps means that mobile technology truly does represent, maybe more so than any other modern technology, the advocacy campaign, the “small group vs. big government” mentality of grassroots organization.

More so than Harbath, Stein speaks of the massive global implications of mobile technology, the mobile phone being the most ubiquitous technology in the world. But both authors reach the same conclusion: it would be misguided and short-sighted to ignore the budding and already apparent power of mobile technology, to ignore the mass appeal of mobile devices and the possibilities they (re)present in the Digital Age to make communication between campaigns and supporters even more three-dimensional, even more transparent. Mobile technology capitalizes on people’s impulsiveness, as well as their desire to feel connected to others, to feel informed in real time, and to feel participatory without a huge amount of effort.

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