Technology has been playing a large role in the presidential primary debates this year. Google and YouTube have each cosponsored a GOP debate, drawing on data and video contributions to take the national pulse, and Twitter is always an unofficial channel for audience participation.
Bloomberg and The Washington Post, cosponsors of the Republican “Economy Debate” (hashtag #EconDebate) taking place Tuesday night, are drawing on other social networking services to provide data and promote audience participation—including LinkedIn and also also smaller companies Quora and Instagram.
LinkedIn, which hosted a Presidential Town Hall last month, is asking its users to respond to questions from LinkedIn executive editor Daniel Roth and participate in economy-related discussions on the site, which the company will then use to "inform" Tuesday night's questions.
Meanwhile, the Post has partnered with Quora, the question-and-answer website. Post columnists Ezra Klein and Glenn Kessler and reporter Chris Cillizza are using the platform to ask readers questions about the debate and what they think debate moderator Charlie Rose and his colleagues should ask the candidates on Tuesday. (The Quora questions live on the Post site as well, with a link back.)
The Post is also drawing, unofficially, from photo-sharing service Instagram, asking readers to share pictures that capture the current state of the economy. The photos will be posted on the Post’s debate page before and throughout the evening. If Instagram helps draw in a larger audience, the paper could pursue “a deeper integration, a formal partnership” with the company, Cory Haik, the Post's executive producer of news innovations and strategic projects, says.
Attracting viewers is a concern for Bloomberg and the Post. While previous debates have garnered large audiences (the most recent, co-sponsored by Fox News and Google, averaged over six million total viewers), they were all hosted by one of the three major cable news networks.
Bloomberg and WaPo won’t have that luxury. Their debate will be broadcast on Bloomberg Television, Bloomberg Radio, and WBIN-TV in New Hampshire, as well as Bloomberg.com and washingtonpost.com
The absence of a major cable network makes Bloomberg and WaPo's outreach efforts all the more important. “You really need to have a directed effort or initiative to get people to participate,” Haik says of the Quora and Instagram efforts. “You need to be explicit about what you’re asking people to do.”