Andrea Torkelson remembers just a few years ago when even the most technologically savvy could be heard saying, “What’s Facebook?”
Today, Facebook dominates the social media scene, surpassing its predecessor MySpace. And that’s why Torkelson, in the face of massive odds, is confident her company’s newly created VoterBuzz political application has the potential to go “viral” and transform the way smartphones are used by politicians and their followers.
The Bradenton political consultant and her team at VoterBuzz Inc. say they have invested $250,000 into the project, which social media experts say could be either a “powerhouse” or extraneous given the enormous influence of existing social media platforms. The new app, which is now available to users of Apple and Android devices, appears to be the first political app built to serve the needs of both sides of the political equation: voters, and the candidates seeking their support.
Torkelson is poised to contact a database of 10,000 political candidates nationwide. She’s already met personally with representatives of the Obama campaign, both parties’ congressional committees, and about a dozen state and national interest groups and candidates. She was in Washington, D.C., this month spreading word about VoterBuzz at a conference devoted to technology in politics and says she has encountered interest from consultants, interest groups and candidates nationwide.
“Luckily, we know a lot of people in the political world, so we’re getting a lot of ‘love’ business from many of them,” said Torkelson, who has worked for a decade as a consultant and database manager for the Nolan Group political consulting firm, which is separate from VoterBuzz. “But on top of that, organizations and candidates have been open-minded enough to try something new. It’s going to take a little bit of time for this thing to build up, but honestly, if this is the one good idea I have in my life, I’ll be satisfied.”
Here’s how VoterBuzz works: Campaigns, committees and groups who subscribe for a monthly fee of $50 to $350 can post events, news, video, requests for volunteers such as sign-wavers and door-to-door workers and contribution solicitation. They can poll followers, spread word about events — including through “push” notifications, which allow the transmission of messages even when an app isn’t in use — and interact with established social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Voters and followers, to whom the app will be free, can follow as many campaigns and groups as are available on VoterBuzz. Voters can purchase tickets or sign up for events, receive news and share it outside of VoterBuzz through email programs, connect with fellow supporters within and outside of VoterBuzz and make donations.
Voters also can search for who they want to support by using a variety of filters: type of campaign, level of campaign, geographic area and specific elective office.
“It’s such a useful app, and there’s nothing else like it. It’s poised to become a huge success,” said Dan Hoffman, project manager with Tampa’s Momentum Mobile, which developed the app for VoterBuzz. “We work on a lot of apps that don’t really have a shot at becoming a hit. This is just the opposite; it applies universally to all age groups, and all kinds of people.”
One-third of all American adults currently own a smartphone, according to the Pew Research Center. That fact, and President Barack Obama’s groundbreaking use of his own app during his 2008 election campaign, mean mobile technology is expected to play a key role in the next election. Campaign Touch, a company that specializes in applying technology to politics, says mobile apps soon will be the most effective way for candidates to reach voters.
HOW TO USE VOTERBUZZ:
If you want to learn about the school board candidates in your area, for example, here’s how it works:
—Select “Candidate” (VoterBuzz also allows you to choose “Issues Campaign” or “Committees”)
—Enter the geographic area you’re interested in.
—Enter “school board” as the office you’re interested in.
—VoterBuzz also allows you to filter selections by political party (including “other” to cover third-party candidates) and election level.
Source: MCT Information Services