Barack Obama's use of social media is credited with helping him reach out to voters in a groundbreaking way that helped him win the 2008 presidential race. In 2012, the Obama campaign is eying a new way to reach voters and donors too -- Square.
The president's reelection campaign, as first reported by Politico, is outfitting its staff across the U.S. with the small plastic smartphone credit card readers and mobile payment apps from Square, the San Francisco start-up run by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey.
But just as the Obama campaign isn't alone in its embracing of social media this year, it too isn't alone in deploying Square for easier, faster fundraising on the campaign trail. On Tuesday, Republican Mitt Romney's campaign announced it too would be using Square for fundraising in Florida, where Romney is facing rivals Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum in a Republican primary.
"We have plans to roll it out nationally but right now we're using Square just in Florida as a sort of beta test," said Zac Moffatt, the Romney campaign's digital director. "The challenge on this sort of thing is never with the technology, it's with the compliance. We're making sure everything we're doing follows fundraising rules and is compliant with the FEC [Federal Election Commission] and that it works well. So, for now, were just focusing on making it all work on this smaller scale, but we'd like to scale this out in time, the right way."
Moffatt said the Romney campaign has been talking to Square about how to best implement the company's card reader and app for "probably about six months. This is one of the challenges we face relative to the Obama campaign -- we have only so much manpower. So we've had to plan this out the right way so that we're using the resources we have in an effective way."
To aid its ability to scale-up its use of Square, the Romney campaign is considering developing its own Square-compatibly app that a supporter could download to their smartphone to make a donation or possibly even collect donations on behalf of the campaign -- but that's an idea that hasn't been finalized just yet, Moffatt said.
The campaign looked to Square for fundraising because of the company's ability to turn a smartphone into what is essentially a mobile cash register with a simple app download and a Square card reader in the headphone jack.
"Ease of use is a big part of why we're using Square," he said. "Anything that reduces the barrier for entry is a No. 1 priority for us. Our apps, well that's something to think through. We still have some things to figure out -- whether or not the Apple is going to take 30% of a donation or not, details like that. But we're always looking to get as close to one touch donations as we can."
For the sake of convenience, Moffatt said, all of the Romney's campaign's Square usage will be iPhone based for now, though Android phones may be added in the future. The "beta test" will take place Tuesday night at the Romney campaign's election party in Florida, he said.
"There will be thousands of people there, so we'll be using Square for merchandise sales and fundraising," Moffatt said. "There will be lots of things like this in 2012 and the question always is, does this technology work for us? We have a lot faith this could be something pretty powerful for us moving forward."
-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: A demo of Square's card reader and iPhone app in action. Credit: Square