The campaign tech to watch as the 2016 race gets underway

Will 2016 be the Periscope election? The Meerkat election? Or the even bigger data election? It's not that simple, but new platforms will help campaigns perform faster and more consistently across media than ever before.

Senator Rand Paul did a Snapchat Q&A earlier this year.
Senator Rand Paul did a Snapchat Q&A earlier this year.

In a little more than a year and a half – barring a major recount – voters will have picked the 45th president of the United States.

That leaves a lot of time for Americans to get to know the candidates. And while each voter might not be able to personally ask Hillary Rodham Clinton if she knows that guacamole costs extra on her burrito bowl, new technology will get everyone a little closer and more personal with the presidential hopefuls.

In years past, social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have been the breakout stars of presidential elections. PRWeek asked campaign alumni what will be the technology to watch in 2016, and they say it will be that which allows candidates to streamline their message, make it more cohesive across all digital platforms, and get it out in front of the buzz around them.

Voters probably won’t find any emerging messaging technology used in the 2016 race too extreme. Scott Goodstein, founder and CEO of Revolution Messaging and the former external online director for Obama for America, says drones won’t be used to win the election, nor will the race be "to the level of email going away." He adds that email will continue to be a major driver through next November.

"The first thing you will see, even more so than in the 2012 race, is that campaigns will be able to coordinate their message across all the digital channels," says Mike Conlow, technology director at Blue State Digital and former deputy chief technology officer to President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign. He adds that candidates will include all digital channels such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Pinterest and "even some that don’t exist yet."

What’s more, Conlow adds that different types of content will be used to reinforce each other more than in past elections, so a campaign email that lands in a voter’s inbox will support an ad he just saw. 

Getting it all to work
Goodstein predicts an increase in "machine learning," or as he describes it, a cloud-based science in which computers solve algorithms that will save campaigns time and money. That means the teams won’t need to hire big, high-priced firms to do the work for them.

In an election season where each team is trying to operate more quickly than its opposition, Goodstein notes that companies such as Google, Amazon, and Microsoft "have better tools to do that."

Google has its Prediction API up and running. Last week, The New York Times’ Bits blog reported on Amazon Web Services’ foray into the "cloud wars" among Google and Microsoft’s machine-learning services with its Amazon Machine Learning platform.

"[Amazon] announced that it was selling to the public the same kind of software it uses to figure out what products Amazon puts in front of a shopper, when to stage a sale, or who to target with an email offer," the Times explained.

At Zignal Labs, CEO Josh Ginsberg, an alum of the campaigns of Mitt Romney and President George W. Bush, says the service the former Massachusetts governor used in 2012 is being employed by both official and unofficial 2016 hopefuls.

His company is a "real-time, cross-media story-tracking platform." It tries to improve on what in past campaigns would have been "20-year-olds doing Google News searches," checking TV coverage and Tweet Deck, then sending emails about those mentions. Then, the campaign had to determine whether the coverage was positive or negative, trending, and what its next steps should be, he explains.

"We bring in basically every data point online that’s not private in an easy-to-use, customizable dashboard," he says, noting that such technologies help teams determine where to commit resources. "What’s really interesting is how those stories travel and how those different mediums interact with each other."

The way candidates zero in on voters is evolving, too. Goodstein points out that voter-consumption habits are as diverse as ever – they may be watching HBO Go, Netflix, or Amazon Prime on a tablet, smartphone, or TV instead of the major broadcast or cable networks – so campaigns are exploring more digital advertising.

"TV costs for advertising have not decreased, and [a campaign might say], ‘All of a sudden, I can reach more viewers on digital, and through digital advertising there are more options,’" says Goodstein. "You’re going to see some more interesting types of advertising."

That also means digital budgets will be heftier this time around. He notes that while campaigns spent a significant amount on digital in 2012, it was still only a small percentage of campaigns’ budgets.

"Maybe 40% to 50% of campaign traffic is coming from a mobile device – it will receive a serious budget this time around, not less than 10% of your budget," Goodstein explains.

Yet in many ways, campaigns will still be trying to do the same things they did in the past: fire up supporters and turn out the vote. This time, there will be a bigger focus on boosting a candidate’s profile in supporters’ own networks. That strategy is continuing to evolve from its canvassing, door-to-door roots to various digital platforms by "giving voters digital tools to convince their friends and family," notes Conlow.

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