Shel Holtz Vocus

Shel Holtz: Smartphones Are Swiss Army Knives for Life

Guest Post by Shel Holtz.  Shel is Principal of Holtz Communications + Technology and the host of next week’s Moving Targets webinar.

The consumer shift to mobile technology is about far more than accommodating a smaller screen size.

While communicators scramble to adopt responsive design to ensure their content looks right on screens between 4 and 10 inches, a more fundamental shift in behaviors is taking place. A variety of habits and behaviors are changing that challenge communicators’ assumptions about how to produce and deploy content.

The smartphone is a Swiss Army Knife for life.

While its ability to connect to the Net does provide access to the same resources available on a desktop or laptop computer, it performs far more functionality. Odds are, you have a flashlight app on your smartphone; shedding light on darkness is now possible under any circumstances.

Want to do better mobile marketing? Register for Shel’s Moving Targets webinar here!

With the right apps, you can open your garage door with your phone, start your car remotely, and control your TV; mobile devices are tightly woven into the “Internet of Things.” A five-day weather forecast can appear on your homescreen for whatever city you happen to be in. You can shoot and share pictures and videos. You can report potholes when and where you find them.

Smartphones: Swiss Army Knives for life.

In addition to these activities, smartphones make other more traditional tasks easier and more convenient. If you found a product you wanted to buy but wanted to see if it was available someplace else for less money, you had to wait until you were in front of a screen. Now it can be as easy as scanning a barcode and checking the results. You can place your order from an etailer while standing in an aisle of a brick-and-mortar retailer.

Social engagement is going mobile, with 40% of Facebook users using mobile devices exclusively for their time on the social network. By one estimate, mobile-only social networks will have 1 billion users by next year, another symbol of the evolution of consumer behavior influenced by mobility.

Tablets are having an impact on our habits, as well. For many, tablets simplify activities that were confounding on a computer. They’re easier to use as a second screen while watching television.

The transformation of habits is even affecting how people consume news and information. Instead of blocking out time to read or watch as a discrete activity, people are taking advantage of previously unusable moments (PUM) to get caught up. Standing in line at the grocery store has become a new routine for me. Using Flipboard, I can review dozens of articles — and even interact with them by retweeting, liking, +1ing, commenting and sharing.

I’m not alone. More than one-third of mobile users get news every day on a tablet or a phone, a pace that is on par with other mobile activities like watching videos or playing games, and trails only checking email. A large portion of this audience checks the news multiple times per day.

Communicators should be asking how they can ensure their news reaches their audiences via altered news-reading behaviors. One answer is to make sure news is distributed via a functioning RSS feed, since that’s the primary way news is delivered through tools like Flipboard, Pulse and Taptu. You do need to make sure it renders correctly on mobile, since people will tap links they find on Facebook and Twitter. (Half of access to Twitter takes place on mobile devices.)

You also have to consider consumer preferences, which lean toward a print-like experience on mobile devices. Nearly 60% of mobile news consumers want the news to look like print; only 41% want a higher-tech experience, according to a study from the Pew Research Center.

Both the simultaneous and sequential uses of mobile devices as a second screen are also worth thinking about. Somebody who spies an intriguing news article on a phone may prefer to read the full story later on a larger screen. Should you introduce a way for that reader to save the article for easy retrieval later? And if she’s watching your news on TV with a tablet in front of her, have you made it easy for her to find information and resources related to the news coverage she’s watching about your company that you worked so hard to earn?

These questions (and hundreds of others) should be top-of-mind for communicators now, today, since these behavior changes are going to keep pace with the explosion of mobile usage. Cisco Systems expects mobile Internet traffic to increase 13-fold in the next four years.

I’ll be reviewing these and other communications-focused issues related to mobility during a free Vocus webinar scheduled for next Wednesday, February 20. I hope you’ll join me! Details and registration are here.

Image: Ian Lamont (Creative Commons)

  • Casey Stevens

    As a communication student, this post was very helpful and insightful into the now more technology reliant world of public relations. Smart phones and tablets are increasingly more important in public relations, and by the time I graduate it will almost be essential to have one. They are helpful in staying connected and it also shows a shift in the public’s reliance on technology in order to stay updated. Thanks!