Parties bring 21st-century tech to 19th-century conventions

Washington Examiner commentary writer Jason Russell, right, interviews Col. Allen West in the Facebook Live studio, one of several new media outlest at the Republican National Convention. (Photo by Sophia Kunthara/Cronkite News)

Republican National Committee visitors look at a touchscreen map, just one of the tech devices that are becoming part of the national political conventions. (Photo by Sophia Kunthara/Cronkite News)

Facebook is just one of several online firms with a presence at the Republican National Convention, as the political conventions add technology to their operations. (Photo by Sophia Kunthara/Cronkite News)

CLEVELAND – Need to find a bathroom at the Republican National Convention? There’s an app for that.

Kind of.

Step-by-step, floor-by-floor directions around Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland is just one of the new tech tools that Republican National Convention attendees can expect this week.

Both the Republicans and Democrats, whose convention starts next week, are unveiling their own apps, social media strategies and partnerships with tech giants to give real-time updates for audiences not in attendance.

“Technology has allowed us to do a lot more than they were able to do four years ago,” said Doug Hochberg, deputy digital coordinator for the GOP convention.

That technology includes 360-video and livestreams of events as well as a more robust use of social media.

YouTube announced Thursday that it will be the official livestream provider for both conventions, and Facebook Live will also have a presence at both conventions. Democrats on Wednesday announced livestreaming and on-demand video options, with Apple TV and Xbox among the lineup.

The RNC worked with Google Maps and the mapping app Waze to create updated maps of Cleveland, with road closures and detours in place.

And it’s not just the parties that are taking advantage of tech – host cities are, too. TourismOhio will be launching its 360 Virtual Reality Experience program this week for the Republican convention in Cleveland.

Hochberg said the RNC will focus heavily on social media to bring the convention experience to viewers at home. One social media platform both parties will be using: Snapchat.

The popular photo chatting app, launched in 2011, has more than 100 million daily users and often has livestreams and the option for users to add photos to specific “live stories” for events.

Both the RNC and DNC have created Snapchat accounts, and Snapchat confirmed that it will allow users to add photos to live stories at both conventions through its Snapchat Live feature.

“Back in 2012, there were tweets and there was Facebook … but social media has grown enormously since 2012,” said Paul Levinson, a communication and media studies professor at Fordham University.

Levinson said social media use could make headlines as well, especially with candidates’ use of platforms like Twitter, which is hallmark of presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump’s campaigning.

“A lot of his candidacy is based on social media,” Levinson said of Trump. “All he has to do is tweet and all of the networks and cable start talking about it.”

While the RNC had its own app for its last convention back in 2012, this year’s version comes with new features that let conventiongoers find all the information they need in one place. It also gives those who aren’t in Cleveland convention updates in real time, with speaker lists and event schedules updated through the app, along with exclusive convention videos that usually are not broadcast on networks.

“We want to give a vantage point that they (audiences) don’t normally get to see,” Hochberg said of the new 360 videos and photos.

“We hope it actually gives some very specific features … but also for the first time it gives people from outside of Cleveland (a reason) to download this,” he said.

Levinson said the real-time updates through both parties’ apps will bring in audiences during the convention, but will also help the parties connect with them for the general election in the fall.

But he also noted that if anything unexpected happens, the whole world will know immediately.

“The public is right on the edge of its seat waiting to see what happens at these conventions … if anything unusual happens it’s going to be reported instantly,” Levinson said. “It’s going to be impossible to spin, people are going to see it with their own eyes.”