The mobile future of social media

This post is provided by our partner the Future Foundation, the leading consumer futures business.

To say that the future of social media belongs to the mobile will come as no surprise to most. But it is unusual to find such a significant area of opportunity gift-wrapped in inevitability; after all, there is no retro in mobile communications – the upgrade cycle is built into pay monthly contracts. OFCOM’s Communications Market Overview report last year announced that 74% of handsets sold as part of pay monthly contracts were smartphones and, each time we get to the end of our contract, we inevitably move up to the next generation of handset. This endless sequence of upgrades is driving the increased use of the mobile internet too – at the end of last year, nVision Research told us that 27% of the UK population were using the mobile web at least once a month. By 2015 this will increase to 53% and will top 70% among the under-35s.

What’s perhaps most interesting here is how rapidly social media has moved onto the mobile platform. The infographic below demonstrates the scale of mobile social media:

Already, a number of new smartphone handsets have launched with “deep” Facebook integration –to the point that there is a button on the phone itself that takes you directly to the site, allowing you to share whatever content you might be viewing or creating on your device.  Furthermore, Apple announced earlier this year that Twitter will be included by default in the next iteration of its iPhone operating system. For years we have been carrying our mobiles around with us wherever we go; now we carry with us our entire community.

This is why marketers have been so excited about the prospect of using location as part of the mix in creating interactive, immersive and effective social media engagement.  Indeed, Martin Sorrell referred to location as the “holy grail” for marketers at the Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona earlier this year. The key, of course, is that location-enhanced services allow brands or venues to connect their customers together at the point of sale or consumption. Despite industry excitement, these services have yet to make serious waves in the mainstream but, looking ahead, it is inconceivable that this will remain the case.  When we asked consumers about their interest in location-based services, we found a great deal of positive sentiment:  58% of consumers expressed enthusiasm for being able to scan barcodes with their smartphone to find out where a product was available more cheaply nearby or online.

For any marketer looking to use location in their marketing activities, it is important to make it worthwhile – moving beyond just collecting badges for check-ins and making location something that adds real value to the consumer experience while still being fun, social and addictive. This idea plays very well with live events and I would be surprised if we didn’t see elements of this implemented around the Olympics next year. In fact, by the middle of this decade, I can imagine going to a football match on a Saturday afternoon and entering the stadium an hour before kick-off for a pre-match beer. I get to the bar and check in on my favourite LBS app. Other fans who have checked in get to see team news first and I can also use my smartphone to watch highlights of the lunchtime game played by our title rivals. In addition, the club runs a competition: before the game, we pick who we think will be man of the match, guess the attendance, possession, pass completion rate etc. The winner gets a free pint after the game and a programme the following week.

I use the app to simultaneously sign into Facebook and connect with other season-ticket holders – talking about the game in real-time around the stadium. One of the great things about mobile platforms is that unlocks new opportunities and new features.  Take this concept from PSV Eindhoven of how augmented reality could be used to enhance the spectator’s experience.

With technology like this, I can watch highlights or replays of controversial incidents in real-time while connected to my networked in both the real and digital worlds.

This is not unique to sport by any means. Adding location to the mix is set to be a great way of unlocking added-value and can particularly help engender loyalty to retailers by making the shopping experience more playful and memorable.

Matt Taylor is Head of Innovation at the Future Foundation, the leading international consumer futures business. Since our launch in 1996, we have worked to meet the strategic needs of businesses through the application of insight. We identify, measure and examine trends, attitudes and behaviours through the rigorous analysis of quantitative and qualitative research. Our robust programme of research provides businesses with the grounding and confidence to anticipate the likely impact of the evolving consumer environment and identify new market and revenue opportunities. Let us assist your thinking, guide your decisions and drive your profits.

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