The ‘Internet’ is a term in such common use that many perhaps do not know that it is a portmanteau term, derived from ‘INTERconnected NETwork’. The ‘connected’ part is what we’re going to consider today, as we look at wi-fi and how it relates to the social media boom.
Wi-fi is a particularly hot topic in our home city of London at the moment. The London Underground network, until now internet-free, will soon have wi-fi access at 120 stations as part of preparations for the 2012 Olympics. This means millions of travellers, hitherto unable to tweet or blog or feed their social media habit, will now be able to connect to social media whilst at tube stations. Back above ground, there are few venues that don’t offer a wi-fi connection to their customers, although not all are free of charge yet.
The growth in wi-fi availability is, in large part, tied to the boom in smart phones, which we were looking at last week. Most smart phone contracts come with a data usage limit, and with punitive charges imposed by network operators for exceeding those limits. Using wi-fi does not eat into those data allowances, so the demand for, and use of, wi-fi by smart phone owners is ever-increasing. Equally, those people who have usage limits in their internet contract will happily carry their laptop to a public wi-fi hotspot to obtain a free internet connection.
The simple fact here is that people want to use the internet more than they can afford to, and a lot of this usage is due to the investment people have made in social media. We noted last week that 40% of social media users check their phones as soon as they wake up, and checking your Twitter feed or Facebook page frequently throughout the day, especially if you wish to upload or post images, soon eats into data allowances. Therefore wi-fi allows one to keep on top of one’s social media without having to incur often expensive mobile internet charges.
This demand means that having a wi-fi connection available often increases footfall and custom for businesses, as people will happily pay the ‘admission fee’ of a cup of coffee or plate of food in order to have reliable, cost-free internet access. The wi-fi costs for the business are soon recouped in increased trade.
Normally at this point in our blogs we relate the topic to how businesses can best employ social media strategies. This time, though, we will simply say this – social media is increasingly moving towards mobile devices. Most of these devices have data limits built into their contracts. Therefore social media users want to use wi-fi wherever possible, to the extent that it informs their decisions of where to eat, drink and socialise. If your business is hospitality, your customers will want to use their mobile devices to access the internet (and by extension social media) whilst they visit your premises. Invest in a wireless network, and use your Twitter or Facebook page to publicise it. Perhaps if customers ‘like’ you on Facebook they could get a discount on their bill?