(RNN) – Mitt Romney's campaign made a "keeping up with the Joneses" move Tuesday when it announced that the choice for a vice presidential candidate would be made via smartphone app.
"Mitt's VP" launched with the promise to supporters that they would find out who Romney would pick for a running mate before the press.
"Soon everyone will know who Mitt Romney selects as his Vice Presidential running mate," campaign adviser Beth Myers said. "With this new app, users can be the first to know the second member of America's Comeback Team."
It is apparent the quarterback of the team, Romney, does not want to lose pace with President Barack Obama, who ran a 2008 campaign that owed a great deal of its success to social media.
Obama used text messages to announce his choice of a running mate to voters four years ago. It would have been an unprecedented move had word of his selection of Joe Biden not leaked out to the press before the campaign had a chance to send out the text messages.
Obama also released a smartphone app Tuesday that allows voters to keep tabs on how the campaign affects local events and vice versa.
Phone apps are a step up from the text message strategy Obama used, according to Dr. Marcus Messner, a mass communications professor at Virginia Commonwealth University who teaches social media.
"The app gets access to the GPS feature on the phone, so (the campaign) knows exactly where you are and what your interests might be," Messner said. "That can be really interesting for a campaign to target specific messages to your area. And later on, this can be all about getting out the vote. Five to 10 percent of the electorate can decide this election, so social media mobile apps can be, really, a tool to get out the vote."
In other words, to ignore social media in politics is to do so at your own peril.
A Washington Post article talked about major political battles that have been waged digitally – notably, campaigns run by Obama and a candidate for the Massachusetts Senate; the way Twitter fueled the Arab Spring uprising; and overwhelming protests that eventually killed a pair of Congressional bills dealing with online piracy.
In the social media race, Obama has more than 18 million followers on Twitter, 27.5 million likes on Facebook and 207,000 YouTube subscribers with 207 million video views.
Romney has 819,000 Twitter followers, 2.9 million likes on Facebook and 12,000 YouTube subscribers with 15 million video views.
"The Romney campaign is catching up quickly. Romney had to go through a primary, and that was the main focus," Messner said.
In May, Romney trailed Obama, Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich in YouTube subscribers, according to TheDigitalCampaign.com. At that time he also trailed Obama and Gingrich in Twitter followers.
The successful Twitter campaign Obama ran in 2008 showed that social media provide effective and inexpensive ways to reach a broad base of people almost immediately.
Romney still has time to make up ground, and he is projected to beat Obama in one key area – spending power.
Romney and the Republican National Committee raised $106 million in June, compared to $71 million from the Democratic side.
Obama himself admitted to supporters the real possibility that he might become the first president in modern history to get outspent in his re-election campaign.
Naturally, Romney will do everything possible to keep pace with or outdo his opponent, but the effectiveness of his strategy remains to be seen.
"Modern politicians are theoretically less reliant on traditional mass media because not only can they get their message out via social media, which they control, but also because the proliferation of many different kinds of media has blunted the reach of any one particular medium, like network television," said Kyle Kondik, a political analyst with the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. "That said, campaigns remain heavily reliant on television advertising, though one has to wonder how effective those ads are, especially because there are relatively few persuadable voters in presidential general elections."
The social media tools, such as the smartphone apps can be used by campaigns to push back against negative stories in the media and help craft the message of the campaign.
Messner points out that Romney's campaign can use the apps or Facebook to smooth over the gaffes the Republican candidate made during his international trip.
However, traditional communication between candidates and voters is not dead in the water, and it cannot totally be abandoned.
"The flier in the mail still has a place in the campaign," Messner said. "There are still people who are not on Facebook, and a majority of Americans still don't have a smartphone."
Copyright 2012 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved. Raycom digital producer Cecelia Hanley contributed to this report.