The Ascension of Mobile Tracking

March 7, 2011

Mobile phone tracking garnered extensive media attention this past week when the Chinese government announced it would monitor the locations of residents in Beijing in order to alleviate traffic congestion.[i] The announcement generated condemnation from privacy groups and reignited concerns among Internet and mobile users on the safety of their personal information.

In much less publicized announcements, both AT&T and Loopt, a location-based application company, unveiled technologies that will allow businesses to send location-specific offers directly to consumers’ phones.[ii] As CNN explains, Loopt’s Reward Alerts application will send participating smartphone users notifications that a deal is immediately available in their area. AT&T customers will be able to opt in to receiving location-based deals by text message and will either be directed to a mobile website where they can redeem the deal or be told to go to a local establishment.

As traditional forms of advertising continue to decline in influence, location-based marketing offers exciting opportunities for businesses, and subsequently politicians, as we will explain in a minute.  Expansion is inevitable, with only four percent of online adults using “geosocial” sites according to a Pew Research study from December 2010.[iii] This number will quickly escalate as more consumer use smartphones and tablets, such as the iPad.  Foursquare, the leader in location-based subscribers, has more than seven million users, up from two million in July 2010, when we first discussed location-based applications in the article “Mapping Congress.”[iv]

Politically, particularly when it comes to campaigning, location-based applications are a valuable tool for organizing canvassing efforts and alerting supporters of upcoming events.  In addition, by creating a mobile application that constituents can download, campaigns have an additional tool to collect phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and other contact information from potential voters.  On Election Day, campaigns can send alerts to supporters reminding them to vote and pointing them toward their polling location.

Location-based applications have more than tripled their subscriber numbers in the past eights months.  Considering the exponential increases other social media tools experienced in their infancy, coupled with extraordinary sales numbers for smartphones and tablets, it only makes sense that location-based application usage will continue to surge leading into 2012.  Just as businesses and communications service providers are launching mobile advertising and tracking initiatives, incumbents and potential challengers will need to leverage new technological capabilities to maximize campaign and canvassing efforts during election season.




Foursquare Helping Campaigns Get-Out-The-Vote

November 1, 2010

It may be Election eve, but similar to Republican Presidential hopefuls, Multimedia Politics already has its eyes cast on 2012.

It was exciting on Thursday to see Foursquare’s announcement of its ‘I Voted’ badge. Location-based applications will have a significant impact on political communications in the near-future. Combining tools such as Foursquare or Gowalla with existing social media channels will add an interactive element to Members’ media portfolios. And while the badge’s impact may be minimal on Election Day tomorrow, campaigns better pay attention and take notes because come 2012, it could become the most effective GOTV tool available.

Foursquare is partnering with Rock the Vote, the Pew TrustsGoogle, the Voting Information ProjectEngageTwitter Vote Report, and Jess3 to monitor foot traffic at polling locations. The information will be updated continuously on and Foursquare is making it available for anyone to embed it on their own website.

So what does this mean for campaigns? First, simply it is another tool for a campaign to track voter turnout by polling location. Imagine if campaigns were no longer dependent on frequent phone updates from field organizers? In addition, field organizers can track who has voted and avoid having to call them on Election Day. Lastly, campaigns can post frequent updates on their website and social media channels of how many people have voted and encourage those who have not to turnout.

What is stopping campaigns from creating an “I voted for [insert candidate name]” badge in 2012? Citizens may be inspired to vote by seeing their friends publically proclaim who they voted for. Some criticize Foursquare because it only has four million users – hardly a sampling of the population. This is true but Twitter had less than one million users in 2007 and has 175 million today.[1] Location-based applications are part of the future of political communications and politicians who use the applications now will be ahead of the curve come 2012.


Finding Your Place with Facebook

August 25, 2010

We discussed the idea of location-based applications previously on this site (Mapping Congress), but Facebook took the concept to whole another level with the introduction of Facebook Places last week. Instantly, millions of users are thrown into the location-based applications stratosphere.

Even more exciting, Foursquare and Gowalla are collaborating with Facebook on the project, meaning a user can post a location on Gowalla and have it automatically appear on their Facebook page.

While not wasting time rehashing what we previously wrote regarding the potential of location-based applications, the fact that Facebook has joined the party instantly increases its importance. Facebook Places can have an instant impact on campaigns as they drive supporters to events and voters to the polls in November.

Currently, Facebook Places is only available through Facebook’s iPhone app. It will expand to include Android and Blackberry users in the near future. So while the service may not affect all of Facebook’s more than 500 million users, it still has a significant, and vastly growing, segment of the community.

Facebook’s announcement also proves location-based applications are here to stay, at least in the near term. The collaboration between Facebook, Foursquare, and Gowalla gives the location-based market some much needed direction, and these three companies should capture a significant market share through the coming months.

Mapping Congress

July 25, 2010

Location-based applications have quickly emerged in 2010. Foursquare recently announced it passed the two million user mark. Its rate of growth has been astonishing, adding approximately 100,000 users per week and passing the one million user mark only three months ago. Competitors such as Brightkite and Gowalla have also all crossed the two million user threshold. Loopt is the current location-based application leader with over four million users.

Can Members of Congress take advantage of this? As August recess looms and the election draws near, I say yes.

Vulnerable Members have to demonstrate where in their district they have visited. By using a location-based application, Members can not only map where they have been, but use the application to promote upcoming events and interact with their constituents. By utilizing other social media tools such as Facebook or Twitter, Members can even solicit suggestions from their constituents on places to visit, eat or interact in the community. Location-based applications can even aid traditional media in following a Member around his or her district.

As far as which location-based application to use, it is tough to say. The market is still segmented and it may take another 6-12 months before one or two companies grab a majority of the market share. But by combining a location-based application with already existing social media tools as well as either the campaign or congressional website, Members of Congress will add an additional interactive element to their media portfolio.

Addendum (8/7/10):

Gowalla launched a new platform to let politicians mobilize constituents around campaign rallies, town hall meetings and community events. Candidates can brand their own “passport stamps” which supporters receive for attending events. Charlie Crist, Rick Perry and Jim Ward are the first three candidates to use the service.

Read Gowalla’s announcement here.