Using Mobile Phones

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By Jan Seifert

Using mobile phones in political campaigns is nothing new. We use our mobile phones to reach other activists or candidates on a daily basis, we call people during political actions and coordinate them – and many of us access websites with relevant information from our smartphone. We do most of these activities without even considering the mobile phone a specific vehicle for campaigning.

This article discusses a more strategic approach to the use of mobile phones, and particularly smartphones, in campaigns. While reading this, you will realise that the use of mobile phones in campaigns often relies on a strategic approach to online communication in a wider sense; in fact, these two approaches work best if they are thought about in conjunction. This trend will continue to rise as more and more people use smartphones. Soon, all mobile phone users in Europe will be able to access the internet in some way or other.

Target the audience
Campaign communication via mobile phones, just as with any other medium, needs to be targeted. A first step is therefore to define the various target groups. The subsequent ideas will focus on the following target groups: candidates, general interested audience, (potential) voters, party activists or passers-by. Think about how to approach each of these groups differently and what you need to keep them happy, or get them involved.

Before the campaign
With regard to both SMS communication and smartphones, you need to prepare the relevant technical infrastructure. For smartphones, ensure that your website (or a sub website) is accessible for all mainstream smartphones platforms like Apple, Blackberry, Android and Nokia. For SMSs, you need to think about using an easily accessible online platform that allows you to send cheap and targeted text messages to differentiated distribution lists. Ask your mobile phone operators and online services (and compare also with Skype) how much they charge for such mass SMSs – and think in advance to what extent you might want to use them. You may also want to consider what SMS (or even call) distribution lists you should establish and sort subscribers accordingly. For instance, it makes sense to have one list for candidates, one for party activists from your own party, and one list with a vote-reminder on election day (and, as always, one group does not necessarily rule out another).

The next step in an active approach to mobile phone campaigning is to constantly give interested people the opportunity to register their mobile number, or to access activities with their (smart)phone. Can people register their number on your campaign website? Can people get a reminder to vote on election day? Can people sign up for key information or the latest news concerning, for example, candidates or nearby events? But interaction is not a one-way street in which the people you are in contact with remain passive. What form of interaction can you offer people? Can they vote via SMS or smartphone on current issues and developments? Is there any other action they can take? Think about these things when you prepare your campaign!

Pay particular attention to the smartphone compatibility of your campaign website. Create a particular sub-site such as ‘’ or ‘’ that is accessible for all mainstream smartphones, and where targeted and less data-intensive information is presented.

Specific examples of mobile phone campaigning:

  • Local Bluetooth action
    Use a physical activity on a street or at the beach to approach people’s mobile phones via Bluetooth. For this you either need a pimped PC or a particular device that sends out signals to the mobile phones of pedestrians passing by. If their Bluetooth function is activated, you can connect to their mobile phones. Different options for communication are possible: make certain games, songs, slogans, data or screensavers available to them. Alternatively, you can also chat with them. In order for people to recognise your stand and signal, draw attention to your stall with music or colourful decorative elements. You could even consider doing all of this with a moving person or vehicle (bike?) and, for example, pass along a beach.
  • Barcode action
    Another means for communication is a barcode placed in magazines, on websites or on street banners. Encourage people to photograph the barcode and MMS it with their phone. You then interact with these people by sending them back campaign elements or material; perhaps a free ticket to an invitation-only event with your top candidate, or a special campaign-related present.
  • Paying or donating with the mobile phone
    Mobile phones can also be used to donate money to a campaign or to pay for special campaign material. Talk to your operators to see what fees apply. Why not organise a ‘SMS-day’ on which you ask all supporters to send a SMS to a certain number and donate 3 euros?
  • Play mobile games
    Mobile phones are a fantastic, but technically more demanding, action. Toshiba ran a great example in 2009: a big live interactive screen formed a playground to which passers-by could connect and in which they could play by simply calling a special phone number and then steering their character on to the field using their phone keyboard. This type of action, again, is particularly interesting in locations where large numbers of people walk by – like shopping zones, or squares full of bars and restaurants. The more mainstream option is to make certain games or applications available for smartphones.
  • Advancing towards Web 2.0
    The most advanced elements of mobile phone campaigning connect with the broader internet and use smartphone where it provides extra value. One such channel is, in which the phone’s camera locates you via GPS and then provides information on the buildings or places that surround you. Why not add data concerning politically relevant or interesting places? Or send people on some sort of treasure hunt?
  • Use the phone’s camera
    A common use of smartphones these days involves photos being tweeted and shared with others. This can be particularly helpful when witnessing embarrassing or shameful moments of your opponent. However, it could also be used for competitions in which you would invite interested individuals or activists to take a picture of the most powerful image conveying your party’s or campaign’s message. You could also offer a poster wall of all activists/voters who post a portrait of themselves on your website together with a message or name.

Privacy warning
Whatever you do, pay attention to privacy. Never collect any data of phone users without their explicit consent.

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