You’ve heard a lot from the media (including right here) about how much of an impact social media, and big data, and email, and online donations, and cookies, and other high-tech fandangles are having on this election, but the importance of one simple, totally unsexy technology is often overlooked. And that, my friends, is the humble landline telephone.
But don’t worry – the Internet is saving that, too.
Michael Kaiser-Nyman is the founder of Impact Dialing, a cloud-based auto-dialing startup used by political organizers. Kaiser-Nyman won’t disclose which campaigns are using Impact Dialing, but it’s a fair guess that it’s pretty widespread across the US for this election cycle. As it turns out, phone-dialing technology is in surprisingly short supply. Kaiser-Nyman had found that out while working for the “No on Prop 8” marriage equality campaign in 2008.
After being disappointed that no easy predictive dialing product existed on the market, Kaiser-Nyman started Impact Dialing and released the product in 2010. Existing options were costly, cumbersome, and not scalable. Kaiser-Nyman got around all those problems by building Impact Dialing on cloud communications tool Twilio.
By the end of the November 2010 elections, Impact Dialing was already profitable, thanks to low overheads and a “lean startup” approach. “We would build the minimum viable product, start selling it, and then build new features as we went and as our clients and leads requested them,” Kaiser-Nyman said in a blog post last year.
One of the challenges for campaigns trying to connect with potential voters is that many of them – especially the younger folks – don’t even use landline phones anymore. A recent National Health Interview Survey has shown that a third of American households don’t use landlines. That’s a big and growing number, says Kaiser-Nyman, but it also means that two-thirds of the population is reachable by a landline – and they’re likely over-represented in voter numbers. He speculates that that’s an age thing – older citizens are more likely to vote, and they’re also more likely to pick up that ringing thing that sits on the living room coffee table.
In the meantime, the campaigns are likely slobbering all over Impact Dialing. The automated system helps campaigns contact three times more voters than before, and they get access to reports and statistics on their phone programs in real time. Because it can be used from anywhere, it also makes it easy to coordinate phone programs across multiple locations, as well as letting volunteers call from home.
So as Election Day nears and you get bombarded with scarily efficient calls from campaigns asking for your vote, or money, or legwork, you know who to blame.