The 2012 campaign is quickly becoming the season of digital partnerships for legacy media outlets. In the latest such mashup, CNN and Facebook announced a partnership  aimed at making Facebook the second screen for CNN election coverage.
CNN is no stranger when it comes to experiementing with new technology. It's hard to forget the network's 2008's election night coverage, when CNN's Wolf Blitzer conducted interviews with holographic  representations of rapper Will.i.am and CNN correspondent Jessica Yellin. For the 2010 midterms, the network also rolled out an elaborate "election matrix" that used its trademarked touch screens to break down races graphically and manipulate data, a tradition CNN's John King carried over to this year's primary coverage.
However, with ratings falling to a 21-year low in the second quarter of this year, CNN needs to make bold moves to draw viewers to its broadcasts, and it's betting that Facebook is the answer. The partnership will harness Facebook's data and research team to monitor social buzz and conduct voter surveys, but the most interesting development appears to be the creation of the "I'm Voting" Facebook app. According to a release from CNN and Facebook, the app will "enable people who use Facebook to commit to voting and endorse specific candidates and issues. Commitments to vote will be displayed on people’s Facebook timeline, news feed, and real-time ticker."
O'Reilly Media correspondent Alex Howard, who blogs about technology and politics, wrote about the app's potentia l, pulling a 2010 quote from Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley in which he argues that online social activity can influence behavior.
“One of the things that we’re finding is that when people send their Foursquare check-ins out to Twitter and to Facebook, it can drive behaviors,” Howard quoted Crowley as saying. “If I check into a coffee shop all the time, my friends are going to be like, hey, I want to go to that coffee shop. We’re thinking the same thing could happen en masse if you start checking into these polling stations, if you start broadcasting that you voted, it may encourage other friends to go out there and do something.”
If the app catches on with users, CNN may be able to take the pulse of the electorate in useful, real-time ways. But will this partnership actually draw viewers for the struggling network? CNN's digital svp KC Estenson recently told Adweek that the network has been preparing for a future of Web and TV convergence, and CNN's partnership with Facebook could foreshadow a future where CNN has a stronger digital presence.
While there is no question that the Facebook brand will put CNN in front of some new viewer, the real winner will most likely be Facebook which, as Howard noted, "will be collecting a lot of data about users that participate in this app and associated surveys—and that data will be of great interest to political scientists and future campaigns alike."