Political candidates are now supplementing their ‘get out & vote’ efforts with mobile apps

by Kathleen Henning
A few years ago Apple taught us that “there’s an app for that.” As apps have grown more and more pervasive in our society, we’ve learned a lot about them here at KLI. We’ve discovered that while people like the convenience of apps, there is a limit to how many they will keep or use. Now that a mobile site can be comparable (if not better) in scope and abilities, it’s much tougher to convince a user to download an app. Just like traditional B2C arrangements, political candidates have one goal in mind with their marketing/PR efforts: drive engagement and ultimately win top of mind placement with their constituents.
Given their rise in popularity, we decided to take a closer look at the drivers of user downloads, how these app makers can better their user experience, and how they can create the kind of personal experience that will win votes.
On a candidate app, users want two main things:
1) Information about the candidate
2)How can they get involved?
Information should be comprehensive but not exhaustive. Use bullet points on the position pages. Consider using timelines for candidate bios. Break up long blocks of text with bold headers. Keep the focus on relevant items to the candidacy as much as possible. The Obama campaign, in both elections, mastered the art of grassroots organizing via an app. The focus of their online content was always to make it easy to organize for the campaign, whether online or offline. They used the Dashboard tool to integrate all of the different volunteering options, users’ social networks, and provide events and opportunities via geolocation.
Exclusive content can be another selling point for apps. When Mitt Romney’s campaign announced his choice of VP using the Mitt’s VP app, the campaign saw over 200,000 app downloads within 48 hours (unfortunately the media beat them to the punch.)  In 2008, the Obama campaign had a similar problem when it announced the choice of Joe Biden via text message after the story had already hit the media. The takeaway here could be that high-profile exclusives might be too much to promise for an app. Speed to market is always a challenge.
However, there are a variety of smaller exclusives that contemporary technology could easily provide for greater voter engagement. Apps could offer a live chat feature with the candidates or their team to discuss breaking news, hot debate questions, or upcoming campaign trail stops. The key would be to have responses arrive in real time allowing individuals the opportunity to communicate. Apps could launch contests where users submit debate questions and discuss them among their party affiliates. Using this conversational platform, candidates can enable personal interaction while campaigning, whether they are trying to garner user support or better communicate their positions on contentious issues of the day.
At the end of the day, if your users can’t use the app, it doesn’t matter what cool features it has or how much content it possesses. Usability is king! It needs to work. It can’t take up too much space on users’ phones. It has to be easy and logical to navigate. There should be available offline content for transit and on the go scenarios, like keeping tracking user data while the app is live. If there’s content that many are accessing, see if you can add to it. If there are menu labels they find confusing, find out what would work for them. A user isn’t going to be inspired to vote via app use if they won’t or can’t use the app.

Digital Storytelling in the Reflective Age

by Kathleen Henning

I recently had the opportunity to attend the Tribeca Film Institute’s Interactive Day, where filmmakers, game designers, and visual artists from all around the world gathered to discuss the future of storytelling in our digital age. One of the biggest shifts in recent years is the significantly increased visibility of the audience. Here at KLI, we’ve always known that audience response is critical to the success of the project, but with this increased means of communication the audience is making their presence felt more and more. A few years ago, Twitter live-feeds on the news or while watching major events were a novelty and now it’s commonplace. There are even entire news shows devoted to Twitter feeds.

One of the cool themes of the day was how to personalize an experience for viewers. Ben Moskowitz of Mozilla talked about how to use data to generate experiences unique to each user. They could be subtly unique, like using different colored shoes in a Nike ad, or more dramatically unique like altering a documentary to suit users’ tastes and preferences. Nick Fortugno from Playmatics spoke about how interactivity can be used to tell stories through play. The rules of a particular environment determine your behavior, which, in turn influences how you feel about an experience.

Jason Brush presented on interactive storytelling. The goal of interactive art is a transcendental experience. Our clients have similar goals. To create such an experience, we need to make the interaction model of the device, website, or app the same as the mental model, or the model in users’ heads guiding their use of it. My favorite part of his presentation was an explanation of the terms ‘ready-to-hand’ and ‘present-to-hand’. The concepts are used to differentiate things that are naturally understood as opposed to things one must learn how to use. I think we can all agree that the more ‘ready-to-hand’ systems are the better!
The closing presentation was about technology and timelessness. Jonathan Harris, a digital artist, spoke about the challenges of creating systems that stand the test of time. While it’s important to keep up with current trends, the strongest digital names are those that have a clear, lasting aesthetic. Think about Wikipedia or Apple or YouTube. His central point about timelessness was that it should be ‘a universal idea executed simply with an element of whimsy’.
At the end of the day, artists and businesses have a similar goal with interactive products. They want to create something that is human, easily usable, and personal. One of the best parts of attending Interactive Day was talking with some of the people trying to make this happen and hearing their thoughts on improving storytelling and communication. There was a recent article in The New York Times about how walking inspires creativity. It was good to take a walk and see what these global artists had to say about digital stories and how to share them.