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.




Congressional Multimedia in 2011

January 2, 2011

Thanks in part to the midterm elections, we witnessed great strides regarding Congressional use of multimedia channels in 2010.  A vast majority of Congressional offices now have Facebook and Twitter pages, more Members of Congress are recording their floor speeches, and campaign mobile applications began appearing on smartphones around the country.  But where will Congress take multimedia in 2011?  Here are three guesses from Multimedia Politics.


The use of mobile and smartphones to connect with constituents is going to increase at an exponential pace in 2011.  Americans are turning to smartphones at an extraordinary rate and ditching their landlines in the process.  Recent research from IDC expects a 22 percent increase in smartphone sales and as many as 42 million tablets – such as iPads – on the market in 2011.[1] In addition, research from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention finds a majority of Americans ages 25-29 live in a household without a landline.  Overall, 27 percent of Americans depend solely on wireless phones.[2] In order for Members of Congress to reach their constituents, they must start texting more, creating mobile applications, and begin utilizing mobile video.

Interactive Website Elements

In many ways, the migration to mobile phones exacerbates the need for office’s to create interactive website elements.  In order to contact people via mobile phone, Members of Congress need to collect phone numbers and encourage supporters to opt-in for text message alerts and calls.  Having constituents participate in surveys is an effective way to collect contact information.

House Republicans demonstrated progress in developing interactive elements in 2010.  The YouCut campaign, created this past spring, helped the House GOP collect hundreds of thousands of names in preparation for the 2010 elections.  In addition, Senator Al Franken (D-MN) created an online petition in support of net neutrality, which garnered more than 31,000 signatures.  With Republicans taking control of the House in the next Congress, we expect the Democratic Party to develop more interactive elements in order to maintain its voice in the lower chamber.

Self-Produced Videos

Many offices are now recording floor speeches and appearances on the local nightly news and posting them on Youtube.  But as the equipment to produce videos becomes less expensive and easier to use, Congressional offices – particularly Senate offices that have multiple press professionals – will begin developing self-produced videos.  Topics can include explanations regarding divisive votes, reviews of trips into the community, and behind the scenes looks into the daily life of a Member of Congress.  A recent example is Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), who produced a video in the summer showcasing his forays throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia during the August recess.

New technologies, coupled with a continued shrinking of traditional media, are forcing Members of Congress and their staffs to seek out-of-the-box avenues to disseminate messaging and connect with constituents in 2011.  We are excited to see what unfolds.



What Does 4G Mean for Congress

December 12, 2010

Image courtesy of Politico

Wireless service providers such as Verizon, Sprint, and AT&T are enthusiastically touting their new 4G capabilities.  Verizon already raves that it possesses “The Fastest, Most Advanced 4G Network.”  As 4G technology becomes more prevalent, how will Congressional offices have to adjust in order to expand their messaging and communicate with their key supporters?

Before diving into how 4G technology will help Congress, it is first important to explain what the term means.  4G refers to fourth generation wireless networks, but there is no official definition or standard agreement of what constitutes next-generation technology, according to The Atlantic.

Long Term Evolution (LTE) and Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMax) are the two primary mobile communications standards capable of running wireless technology at 4G speed.  In North America, Verizon and AT&T use LTE while Sprint utilizes WiMax, but the differences between the two technologies are negligible.

For the average mobile phone user, 3G and 4G are virtually indistinguishable.  Users will only notice 4G’s enhancements when it comes to mobile downloading.  Want to watch a television show on your phone?  Want to download a movie?  Then your 4G phone is going to demonstrate remarkable progress.  Ultimately, 4G speed will be as fast as cable and the technology will mitigate the need for wired internet – as this CNN article reports.

Mobile video usage is skyrocketing in the United States.  A recent Nielsen report finds that mobile video viewership increased 44 percent from the second quarter of 2009 to the second quarter of 2010.  Consequently, research from IDC suggests that smartphone sales will increase 22 percent in 2011, meaning mobile TV and video are going to continue to increase exponentially.

As 4G technology becomes more prevalent and the public turns to smartphones and tablets as its primary source for video and news, Members of Congress must ensure their websites are mobile ready.  In addition, any videos produced by Congressional staff will need to be optimized for both PCs and mobile devices.  As mobile video conferencing continues to expand – as we are seeing with the new iPhone 4 – Members will have expanded opportunities to video conference with constituents in their home district at little cost.

4G is going to open up new avenues for Senators and Representatives to connect with their constituents and expand their messaging.  It is important for Congressional offices to begin assessing new available technologies now, in order to be prepared when the majority of the public is mobile.  This means establishing robust social media channels, developing smartphone apps, and hiring multimedia staff capable of producing high-quality content.


App Politics

July 5, 2010

The iPhone and iPad have dominated retail headlines over the last month. Apple sold 3 million iPads in its first 80 days on the market. Concurrently, the new iPhone 4 sold 600,000 units in one day in the United States. These numbers are extraordinary considering it took almost two years to sell 1 million iPods and it took 74 days to sell 1 million units of the original iPhone. The only hurdle slowing sales has been Apple’s ability to stock the shelves.

Both the Republican and Democratic parties have taken note of this trend. The NRSC struck first with the introduction of its iPhone app in May. The app contains a newsfeed, videos linked from youtube and basic information regarding Senate races and candidates.

At the end of June, the DNC introduced its own iPhone app. The DNC’s app includes a “Call Congress” function, a newsfeed which allows users to e-mail or send the story over social media and an event locator.

Lastly, Congressman Adam Putnam became the first active member of Congress with an iPhone app on July 1 when he launched an app to aid his campaign for Florida Commissioner of Agriculture.

Congressional leaders and campaigns need to continue to jump on board. In 2009, the amount of data used in texts, e-mails, streaming video and music on U.S. cellphones surpassed the amount of data used for voice. Simply put, Americans are progressively using their cellphones for more than talking. 42% of cell phone users have downloaded an app, and that number is only going to increase. Capgemini, a mobile consulting firm, estimates that mobile app revenue will increase at a compound annual growth rate of 30% from 2010-2013. Apps are becoming an increasingly important tool for Congressional leaders to engage their constituents, and particularly those pesky young voters.