October 22, 2013
Facebook Chair and CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently joined other tech innovators to launch a bold plan to connect every person around the world via the Internet. An estimated 5 billion people — approximately two-thirds of the world’s population — lack Internet access today.
If these efforts have any chance of succeeding, then mobile devices will be a core part of the plan. The explosion of mobile audiences — not only in emerging nations, but also in developed economies such as those in North America, Europe and Asia — is the most important communications trend in a generation.
Just as the advent of the Internet browser and email challenged PR practitioners 20 years ago, today PR pros must also quickly adapt to and embrace the changes that mobile has in store — many of which are still evolving.
Data from a variety of sources indicate that close to 80 percent of Americans currently have Internet access in their homes. From 2008 to 2012, that number increased by 18 million, a year-over-year increase of only 3 percent. Forrester expects that consumer PC penetration has peaked and is starting a slow decline.
By contrast, smartphone penetration in America, which is lower — about 55 percent of the total U.S. population — is rapidly growing at nearly 50 percent year-over-year. Unlike PCs, smartphones and tablets don’t require dedicated space in the home and can link to high-speed wireless or Wi-Fi networks, meaning that they are not beholden to the availability of hardwire broadband connections, which do not reach many households.
The latest numbers from online statistics portal Statista reveal that mobile devices accounted for 17.4 percent of Web traffic worldwide in July 2013, which was a 57 percent jump from a year ago. Mobile devices accounted for more than 20 percent of traffic to websites powered by Tendenci content management software during the first half of 2013. Different types of organizations are seeing different user behavior:
I expect this trend to continue, which presents challenges for organizations that fail to accommodate the growing demands of mobile. Websites that frustrate mobile users not only miss the opportunity to connect, but they also risk lending a negative brand impression.
App analytics firm Flurry recently found that people spend 23 percent of their time on mobile devices — second only to TV. Most of that time (32 percent) is spent playing games. Facebook and other social networking apps take up 24 percent of the time, and mobile users spend about 20 percent of their time browsing the Web.
As recently as early 2012, conventional wisdom was that mobile users were “on the go” and that they typically sought information related to their particular circumstances at that moment — with an emphasis on location. They didn’t need all of your information, just the information tailored to their needs, such as directions, hours of operation, phone number and email address.
While people are still connecting wherever and whenever they please, mobile users today are far more likely to connect while sitting on the couch. This is mostly driven by the rapid adoption of tablets, which have become a second screen in the living room.
According to Nielsen, 85 percent of U.S. tablet owners use their devices while watching TV, and they spend 30 percent of their total tablet time using the device while watching TV. These mobile users expect their entire online experience to be as seamless and enjoyable as using social networking tools, games or other apps. If they visit a website, then they expect to view the entire site, not just a small slice of it that is tailored to mobile users.
If a website takes more than a few seconds to load, has elements that are not supported by their operating system (such as Adobe Flash) or is not formatted to the size of their screen, then users will leave and may never come back.
All of us are familiar with person-to-person (P2P) mobile messaging (or texting) and probably have the calloused thumbs to prove it. But there are significant developments that every PR practitioner needs to understand:
If you haven’t yet brainstormed how to connect with and engage mobile users, then now is the time to start.
Public relations has been navigating a series of disruptions. The adoption of PCs, fax machines, email, the Web and social media has radically changed how we operate and interact with the communities our success depends on. Likewise, mobile is revolutionizing our profession.
Zuckerberg’s efforts to connect every human, and mind-boggling experiments such as Google Glass, make it clear that we’re just beginning to penetrate the surface of the technological advances and behavior changes that mobile will make possible for generations to come.