The National Republican Senatorial Committee plans to use the special Senate election in Massachusetts later this month as a testing ground for a new Get-Out-The-Vote app on Facebook that will make it easier for supporters to target friends who live in the state and encourage them to go to the polls.
The race pits Republican candidate Gabriel Gomez against Democratic Rep. Ed Markey on June 25 to fill the seat vacated by Democrat John Kerry, who left the Senate earlier this year to become secretary of state.
Here's how it works: Facebook users who connect with the app will see a screen showing an auto-generated list of their friends from Massachusetts, with text that asks these friends to support Gomez in the special election. They will also be able to send personal messages.
Users will then be given the choice to share this image and Web page on their friends' walls or through private messages.
One of the biggest challenges for parties in special elections is to remind—and persuade—people to vote, and the NRSC hopes to use the app to increase turnout. There are plans to implement it nationwide for candidates running in the midterm elections next year.
It's the first time an official party campaign committee will use the technology in this way, NRSC spokesman Brad Dayspring told Yahoo News.
"We believe that the social web is as valid a voter contact as phone banking and door knocking, particularly within certain demographics," Dayspring said. "This app reflects that broader strategy."
The app serves multiple functions: First, it allows Republicans to share the party message with new audiences using a friend as the messenger, instead of it coming directly from the party. Sharing the image on the public Facebook wall can also create a peer-pressure effect that could encourage more people to vote as they see others on their social networks who plan to do the same.
The online campaign is part of an ongoing, larger Republican effort to catch up to Democratic candidates using social media. Democrats have largely outpaced the GOP using the medium in recent years.