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Mobile is key to connecting with young voters: Rock the Vote

WASHINGTON ? An executive from Rock the Vote at the Nonprofit Mobile Day said that by using a combination of SMS, mobile bar codes, Web, social media, applications, the organization has been successful in getting young voters to the polls.

During the ?Rock the Vote: tapping mobile?s strengths to drive user turnout,? panel, a Rock the Vote panelist spoke about how the company has used mobile with other channels including email to spread its message. The speaker also revealed the secret sauce to building Rock the Vote?s SMS database of approximately 250,000 subscribers.

?Our approach as an organization is to go to where young people are and digital and mobile is a huge part of it,? said Chrissy Faesen, vice president of marketing and communications at Rock the Vote, Washington.

Tech-savvy teens
Rock the Vote?s core demographic is 18 ? 24 years old, and the goal of the organization is to engage young adults by getting them to vote. To do this, the organization goes into high schools, colleges, neighborhoods and cultural events to interact with teens.

According to research from Nielsen Co., 18-24 year olds are the second most active mobile demographic, right after 13-17 year-olds. Additionally, the age group has a high smartphone ownership.

Ms. Faesen said that the average 18-24 year old sends 1,640 text messages per month, which explains why the organization has made SMS a priority when connecting with teens.

Teens are also gobbling up mobile video on their handsets with 54 percent coming from music.

To build Rock the Vote?s SMS database, the organization incorporates a mobile ask into every program. For example, when users fill out an online voter registration on the company?s Web site, they can check a box to receive text messages from Rock the Vote.

Using area codes, Rock the Vote then sends out SMS messages that are tailored by city, including registration reminders and polls.

Rock the Vote also has a larger multichannel public service announcement called Get Out The Vote campaign. By sending out a text message the day before an election, Rock the Vote has seen election turnout increase by three to four percentage points.

The organization also used a Web poll to let users cast their vote for political candidates via SMS. After voting, consumers can opt-in to join Rock the Vote?s text program.

During a recent poll, Rock the Vote saw 8,000 users text in their votes for their pick on a Republican presidential nomination.

Rock the Vote can also use mobile polls to find out what issues teens are interested in. For example, by using mobile polls in the organization?s high school civics program Democracy Class, the nonprofit learned that 32 percent of voters were most interested in the cost of college.

Multichannel approach
Rock the Vote has also bolstered its SMS program by combining it with social media and email efforts as a way to get users engaged.

For instance, Rock the Vote promotes its SMS program on its Facebook page to help spread the word. The organization has also used mobile as a way for users to enter social media sweepstakes.

Mobile bar codes also play a role in the company?s efforts. At a recent concert, Rock the Vote volunteers wore t-shirts with a QR code on the back that users could scan.

This year the company plans to use mobile bar codes more at live events that let users scan a code to register to vote and enter their email. Users might also be able to do things such as buy merchandise, interact with social media and watch videos.

Additionally, all of the nonprofit?s retail products come with mobile bar codes placed on tags that users can scan to learn more about the products.

Rock the Vote has also tested mobile apps with tech-savvy users. Rock the Vote?s Chase app lets volunteers contact users to see if they plan to vote, similar to a paper call list. Additionally, the Rock the Vote 2012 app will educate users on how to vote while also interacting with content from the nonprofit.

Email is a huge part of Rock the Vote?s database-building plan. For every phone number that the organization collects, it also captures an email address and uses both channels to send messages.

For 2012, Rock the Vote plans to continue to build and mine its database across all marketing channels, develop strategic partnerships, tap into more contests and sweepstakes, bolster its social media efforts and integrate more apps into its strategy.

Additionally, the organization is beginning to equip tablets to on-the-street volunteers to let users sign up to vote on the spot.

?The No. 1 barrier to getting teens to participate is because the voter registration process is confusing to them,? Ms. Faesen said.

?Over the course of the last four years, the biggest lesson we have learned is to know your audience and what makes sense to message them about,? she said.

Final Take
Lauren Johnson is editorial assistant at Mobile Marketer, New York