Imagine someone working in a government security clearance environment (defense, international affairs, homeland security, etc.). They need to balance their workplace restrictions and national security with their desire to chat with friends online.
Multiply that individual by hundreds of thousands of people, and their personal smartphones with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest apps loaded up.
Welcome to the federal government’s current nightmare.
Flickr will unveil its much-needed new interface today, revamping one of the oldest and still prescient social networks. This significant change comes to a network that features more than 3.5 million photos uploaded everyday, and one of the most popular APIs on the Internet. Flickr’s new interface seeks to make the network relevant to smartphone and tablet users.
As a long term power user on Flickr with more than 4000 photos and 325,000 photo views on my photo blog, I welcome this change. It’s refreshing, and makes the most powerful network for sharing videos not only stronger, but more attractive, too.
For a long time, Flickr’s primary value to me was housing images in a very accessible Creative Commons library. This allowed widespread dissemination of images in a host of online journals, blogs, and in some cases traditional media. Now Flickr could become more than that, competing with personal photo network favorite Instagram for commenting and interacting with other photographers and visually oriented minds.
If you are not preparing your organization for a mobile web, you will lose competitive positioning. Many brands have dabbled and experimented, but have put off mobile media as they struggled to swallow social media. Social media is now in its best practices phase, while mobile media via tablets and mobile phones has hit the tipping point. It is necessary for businesses and nonprofits to start adapting now for brand relevancy.
Mobile media has brought the Internet into every aspect of our lives now. This was evident throughout SxSW and the travel between DC and Austin; mobile media was everywhere. Group texting, gaming, mobile videos and pictures, plus the usual status updates seemed to dominate conversation and content. Brands confided that they had started hiring mobile media managers.
Here are four suggestions to help you begin experimenting with mobile media:
1) Start Playing with Group Texting Applications
It’s no secret that location based services have seen growth slow, in large part because the gaming and badging features have a limited entertainment experience. Additionally, while coupons are nice and provide monetization, the consumerism of coupons doesn’t demand consistent engagement. All in all, location networks have yet to break through as the mobile killer application… Thus the marketplace’s recent excitement about group texting.
At SxSW, Zoetica gave a couple of the group texting platforms a dry run. Both GroupMe and Beluga were quite interesting, but GroupMe was easier to use, allowing for quick group set up, and back channel conversations within the company. Both platforms are highly dynamic in the sense that they allow for social activity in ways that neither Gowalla or Foursquare offer. In some ways, a marriage between a group texting application and a location based service could be the right mix of social and monetization.
One thing is certain about mobile media. It does not suffer long, textual documents and word-based interfaces gladly. Reading blog posts like this one on a mobile phone does not make sense from a content perspective. The screen size negatively impacts text size and the ability to read long documents.
What does make sense is photo based and short video content. Visual content works well in this media form. Photos with captions or minimal text copy, and short 30-60 second videos are ideal for handheld devices. They tell stories in a friendly, enjoyable way on this medium. And with smartphones adding better cameras, editing and instant publishing functionality, we are seeing dramatic increases in online photo sharing.
The red hot tablets on the market are much more text friendly, but given tactile (touch-based) input, visual user interfaces are easier for users to navigate. Especially for those of us with thick fingers (ahem). Early iPad experiences have shown applications that use visual interfaces like FlipBoard, news apps from ABC and CNN, and other mobile media make for big hits.
Further, mobile platforms like Tumblr and Posterous make publishing quick on the fly video, photo and text based mini posts easy! If you haven’t already begun to play with these tools, now is the time to start.
While Foursquare, Gowalla, mobile applications for phones and the coupon services are known quantities with mobile and portable media, they have helped fuel today’s growth. Continued innovation in the location space may add the much needed sociability to these networks. Tips, coupons and deals have all yielded monetization for a limited number of successful organizations. For a more mature content marketing effort, applications with great user experiences still make sense.
There have been and will continue to be the trials of adoption with the mobile internet. Monetization and fundraising via mobile can be quite a challenge. But make have no doubt. If you are not experimenting and migrating your online communications towards a mobile experience, then your brand will start suffering.
According to Pew Internet, forty percent of adults use the internet, email or instant messaging on a mobile phone (up from the 32% of Americans who did this in 2009). Of that group, 38% browse the web using their phones.
This trend, given the ever growing (and cheaper) smartphone marketplace, represents the greatest sea change on the social web since Facebook opened its walls to non college students. Positioning a company or nonprofit to effectively engage stakeholders on their smartphone, tablet or other portable device only makes sense. Mobility is the most obvious change that communities are making wholesale on the interwebs.
As Priya Ramesh pointed out yesterday on the Buzz Bin, mobile web access is expected to surpass desktop access by 2014. Because of the wide proliferation of platforms and, frankly, in the case of the iPhone, apps, it makes the most sense to develop your site to at minimum offer a great mobile experience. Applications can be costly, only work on singular platforms (iPhone, Android, Blackberry, etc.), and need to offer more value than simply repacked web content.
Beyond the obvious mobile web, comes mobile use and how that impacts the data and user behavior. There’s no greater example of this than the current location based social network craze with Foursquare and Gowalla taking the lead, and Facebook and Twitter trying to compete with their own offerings. However, as experts are beginning to notice, check-in programs do not offer real long term value for organizations.
The real development is in understanding how people use their phone to engage the web, and then build mobile programs that serve the customer. In some cases, that may mean delving into the location network’s database via its API and developing custom applications to serve the community.
Consider that Central Park is the most checked in place in New York City on Foursquare. Central Park supported this latent community by adding historical data for check-ins throughout the park, providing context and information to the average Foursquare/Central Park visitor’s experience. There are also mobile applications available so people can track where they are in the Park, and find attractions and locations near them.
Understanding how mobile impacts your stakeholder is the key. Whether that’s easier experiences with less input because of the device, or actual hard location based use depends on the organization. What is clear is that this is a trend that companies and nonprofits can no longer avoid.
The above is draft material for my next book, Welcome to the Fifth Estate (the follow up to Now Is Gone, which is almost out of print). Comments may be used in the final edition. You can download the first drafted chapter of the new edition — Welcome to the Fifth Estate — for free.