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Obama will announce VP via text message. Smart idea?

Posted by: on Aug 12, 2008 | No Comments

Yes, but that’s because of the implementation, not just the technology.

Last night, in a cell phone text message that was quickly followed by an e-mail linking back to a new page on his Web site — my.barackobama.com/vp — aides to Sen. Barack Obama’s (D-Ill.) campaign wrote: “Barack will announce his VP candidate choice through txt message between now & the Conv. Tell everyone to text VP to 62262 to be the first to know! Please forward.”

As Castells, Fernandez-Ardevol, Qiu, and Sey note in Mobile Communication and Society, Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi send 13 million “personal” text messages to cell phones on the eve of regional elections on June 12-13, 2004. In other words, he spammed people’s cell phones. The text messages backfired, annoying many people, and “Berlusconi lost the regional elections by a larger margin than anticipated.” The authors hasten to add that “although it cannot be proved that the cell-phone incident aggravated the defeat, as many observers claim, we can say at the very least that in this case wireless communication did not help the successful reception of the message sent” (p.211).

Why not? “Berlusconi did not understand that the key to the success of the Spanish messages [grassroots messages sent about the Spanish election a few weeks before] in prompting mobilization was that people received them from someone they knew, from the address book of someone who had their name, not from a central register obtained from some company” (p.211).

Notice the last part of the Obama text message quoted above: “Please forward.” The strategy is to send the text message to those who have opted in, and have them send messages to others who they know.

Of course, the moment the text messages are sent to those who have opted in, they will be forwarded to Twitter. That’s part of the plan, since those who use Twitter are following friends and acquaintances. Whether you find out by text, Twitter, Facebook status message, FriendFeed, etc., it’ll be from someone you know and someone who has established a relationship and social capital with you. Smart.

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