Sunday, July 01, 2007

"Candidates venture into texting"

WaPo (via Spokesman Review):

Democrats trying to tap into growing cell phone universe

If Sen. Barack Obama is your guy, dial 62262 – which spells "Obama" – on your cellphone and text "Go." For supporters of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, punch in 77007 and text "Join." Text "Today" to 30644 if you're a fan of former Sen. John Edwards.

A small but growing list of presidential candidates, all Democrats, are jumping on the text-messaging bandwagon. With more than three-quarters of Americans estimated to own cell phones – and more than 15 billion text messages sent within the country each month – campaigns believe it's a technology they can't afford not to exploit.

Aides for Obama, D-Ill., the latest to launch a mobile campaign, say they'll use text messaging to organize events and urge supporters to donate money. Hours before Thursday's Democratic forum at Howard University, his campaign sent this message: "Debate tonight! Watch Barack Obama."

"Your cell phone is probably the one piece of technology that is with you all the time," said Joe Rospars, Obama's new-media director. He oversees the mobile campaign, which kicked off a few days ago. "The reality is, I don't think there's a campaign or a political organization right now that has figured out how to smartly use this technology. There's going to be a lot of experimentation."

With their foray into text messaging – also known as SMS, for Short Message Service – the campaigns are taking a cue from corporations and nonprofits, large and small, that have used text messaging to get their message to an increasingly mobile population.

There are already a handful of examples of American politicians using the technology: California Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., used text messaging in their re-election campaigns. But the better examples are found overseas, in presidential elections in the Philippines, South Korea and Spain.

So far the Democratic front-runners are using texting in varied ways.

Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, the first of the candidates to launch a mobile campaign, has sent texts urging his supporters to join his Young America program (text "Summer" to 30644) and sign a petition to end the war in Iraq (text "Iraq" to 30644). Late last month, his campaign launched a fundraising drive that started off with a text message and was followed by a prerecorded phone call from Edwards himself: "Hi, this is John Edwards. Thank you for taking the time to respond to our text and listen to my message. ..."

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., who announced her mobile campaign in mid-May, has sent a couple of texts, one about her debate appearance and another urging supporters to vote for their favorite campaign song. Her campaign faced a little technical glitch at first. When Justin Oberman, a consultant in the field of marrying cell phones and politics, texted his ZIP code to 70077, the reply he got was the address of a community clinic. The glitch has been fixed, said Peter Daou, Clinton's Internet director.

Obama e-mailed his supporters about his mobile campaign and asked them to text "Strk" and their mailing address to get free Obama bumper stickers – another way to update and build his mailing list. In addition, Obama is offering seven ring tones (his speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention mixed with a hip-hop or rock beat, for example) and four cell phone wallpapers (two Obama photos and two Obama logos). Everything's free (text "ringtone1" and "image1" to get them), though standard texting rates apply.

Supporters can send their ring tone and wallpaper ideas, and they can text questions about health care, for example, and get a response from a small group of volunteers and staffers. Within about an hour, if not a few minutes, a text such as "Iraq?" gets this response: "... Barack has been strongly against the war since 2002. Please visit ... 2 learn more."

Oberman has closely followed the mobile campaigns.

"Of the three, Obama has had the smoothest release of a mobile campaign so far. You can tell that his camp has really thought it through. Edwards, I think, has been the most innovative – the 'Stop the war in Iraq' petition, the prerecorded fundraising pitch.

I'm a little disappointed with Clinton's," Oberman said. "A text-messaging campaign shouldn't be about telling me to go online and vote for a campaign song. It's about Clinton telling me to meet somewhere for a local Meetup event. It's about Clinton telling me to sign a petition. It's about something that takes into account my surroundings. Remember, my cell phone is with me everywhere, so what comes to my phone better be personal to me. Otherwise it's unnecessary."

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