Device Squad

According to an article in the Guardian today, industry experts anticipate that within 5 years, there will be more devices connected to mobile phone networks than there will be humans.  The key driver for this expansion in Western markets, given that mobiles phones have already exceeded 100% market penetration, is the demand for mobile internet – and, by association, mobile social media.

As social media is increasingly being accessed through portable devices, users’ experiences and expectations of social media are changing.  Until the recent advent of reliable and widespread 3G networks, social media users would log in largely at home and outside of working hours, as there were no other means by which to do so. The influx of smart devices and improved 3G and 4G networks means that 24-7 social media is now a reality, with users now engaging at any time which suits them.  For instance, the article cited above notes that 40% of smart device users access the internet before getting out of bed in the morning, and 70% do so on the commute to work.  The rumours that Facebook are going to launch a dedicated ‘Facebook phone’ are gathering pace, and only serve to show that the desire for unbroken connectivity to social media is fuelling a market for dedicated portable social media devices.

The core social media experience on a mobile device remains the same, of course – the key social media players have all optimised their interfaces to ensure this – but freeing social media from the home has created some interesting challenges for businesses. We’re going to address these in turn over our next few posts, but today we’ll examine the hottest topic, namely the impact moving to mobile devices has had on advertising using social media sites.

There are few of us who genuinely look forward to being advertised to – frustratedly mouse-clicking until the ‘Skip’ button appears at the beginning of a YouTube clip, using a PVR to fast-forward through commercials wherever possible – but the ‘traditional’ social media, as presented on a PC monitor, allows ample opportunity for advertising.  The user may not choose to click through to the full advert but, subliminally, they are being made aware of the product. The recent furore around Facebook’s stock market flotation (and subsequent devaluation) stems from figures demonstrating that, as more users access Facebook from mobile devices, advertising reach and effectiveness from the site diminishes. This is because the Facebook mobile interface allows for minimal advertising, though changes are afoot. Similarly, many blogs carry advertising which is easily cropped or removed when reading using a smart phone.

Advertisers, having seen the impact of TV adverts decimated by the rise of PVRs and catch-up TV, are increasingly focussed on their online campaigns. The rise of the mobile internet device, allowing the user to easily avoid advertising, is a potentially damaging development for the entire advertising industry and those companies whose products they represent.  Similarly, nearly all social media sites depend on advertising revenue to fund their operations.  As internet access (and hence social media) increasingly moves towards mobile devices, it may not be possible for advertisers to reach their intended audiences, and hence they will no longer place adverts on social media sites.

So what can be done? From the social media sites’ perspective, they could introduce more advertising to their mobile sites, albeit at the risk of upsetting their users. Alternatively, they could look at other sources of revenue. An interesting parallel here is the business model used by Spotify or certain MMOGs – users can choose between a free-to-access version with advertising, or pay to subscribe to a version with no adverts. Would this work for social media, would users pay for a ‘premium’ version of something that has always been free to use? If the price is right, our guess is that they would, but which social media site will take the plunge first?

From the advertisers’ perspective, we would once again return to our old friend, social sales. Instead of blanket advertising to everyone on Facebook, for instance, why not find those individuals who are brand advocates on Twitter and follow them? Why not engage on forums with customers who are dissatisfied with your competitors? If the future of social media is on mobile devices which won’t carry adverts, businesses need to embrace social sales as part of their online strategy. That 40% of people checking their smart phone before they have breakfast, for instance – did any of them tweet about their breakfast yesterday? If so, was it your product they enjoyed for breakfast? Yes? Then follow them, thank them for liking your product and keep them loyal.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at how the shift to mobile social media will impact customer service for businesses. In the meantime, if there’s anything you’d like to say about social media and the migration to mobile devices, please comment below.

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