The mobile phone has always been a social device. What with apps, maps and Angry Birds you could be forgiven for forgetting that its main purpose is still to communicate with others. Mobile phones are the real social network. They’ve got all the important personal digits, your mum’s number alongside intimate texts from your nearest and dearest. Putting a phone into ‘plane mode’ mutes it and turns it into a so-so media device. Your mobile is designed to talk to people, every circuit board in its little plastic body wants to communicate. The point? That mobile is essentially social, and was always so, before Facebook was even a blinking line of code in Mark’s eye.
The explosive rise of the smartphone has created a nation of mobile internet addicts. One could argue that the digital revolution was driven by brands and agencies, looking to exploit technology with a ‘build it and they will come’ approach. Well, the mobile web revolution is quite the opposite – it is consumer led. Millions of smartphone users are doing what they learnt to do on their PCs and then taking it further. Mobiles are being used to access and share information in new ways, places and times that are dictated by users, not by corporations.
Network operators are struggling to keep the data flowing and brands and business are on the back foot. No wonder, mobile usage is subversive and disruptive. From BBM fuelled riots in the UK to tweets from the Arab Spring front line, revolutions are not being televised, they are being mobilised.
It’s user initiated search and social networking that’s driving mobile web usage. Google, Facebook and Twitter are all seeing their fastest growth coming from mobile. In the EU Twitter saw mobile usage grow by 101% in 2011 compared to 66% via computers. In the same period Facebook grew its audience by 52% on mobile compared to just 9% growth from computers.
So, the evidence is quite stark, not only is mobile an inherently social device, but social networks are also hugely important via the mobile channel, with users taking these conversations with them wherever and whenever they want.
What I say to clients is simple – if you think that social networks and the web are important tools for your business, then logically mobile social and mobile web are important channels too. Users see them as one and the same. Unfortunately, from a technical and experience point of view, they are not. They need a specific content and technical approach, web version of social network experiences don’t translate seamlessly to mobile. And not catering specifically for these users isn’t just lazy – it’s bad for users and ultimately bad for business.