Mobile, social and tall doors: How Idaho business can embrace change

iphone5It isn’t a surprise to anyone that the way people consume and discover content is changing – and along with it the way advertisers reach an audience. But as the landscape shifts and changes rather rapidly, the ways small and medium businesses react and adapt can make or break their future success.

Locally, the sheer volume of businesses who have established a presence on social media is staggering – and for the most part rightfully so. But very few are paying attention to the mobile space, which in my view is far more integral to success.

Let me start by laying out a few numbers. The KTVB News Group does a large annual survey of the Boise market– a big research project that allows us to dissect data and determine trends. Three data points from the survey really stand out on this topic:

  • 52% of the market uses a smart device of some type (smartphone, tablet or Internet-enabled music player like an iPod Touch).
  • 58% of the market says they used Facebook in the past thirty days
  • 11% accessed Twitter over the past month

While each of those metrics has seen growth since the prior survey, the one that stands out is mobile. Facebook grew a small amount from 56% to 58%. Twitter grew from 7% to 11% – a large growth rate but still a small number (just a tenth of the market).

Mobile use grew from 38% to 52%. Fully half of the area is using the Internet on the go – a staggering figure considering these devices, for the most part, did not exist prior to 2008.

Now contrast this with the investment SMBs are putting toward these three platforms. While I’d argue every business should have an active, robust presence on Facebook – many are also dabbling in Twitter. Frankly, that’s probably not the best use of their time and resources for most. I’m a believer in Twitter – I’ve sent more than 26,000 tweets so clearly I use the platform quite a bit. But for the most part I’ve yet to see it deliver a measurable result for a mainstream business. There are exceptions – the Boise Soup Tweetup, social outreach by Treefort Music Festival, Ignite Boise and some others – but for the most part these are focused on social good or just plain socialization. They don’t often drive dollars into pockets. (I’m certain there are a number of other exceptions to this, but in a general sense I believe this to be true).

But I’m somewhat astounded by the lack of mobile optimization among local businesses. If half the market is using the mobile platform, shouldn’t every virtual frontdoor be optimized for that experience?

Let me make an imperfect analogy. Imagine if over the last four years, 52% of the population grew to be 7 feet tall. The average door height is 6’ 8”. If half of all customers had to duck uncomfortably to enter an establishment, most business owners would consider the investment to build a taller door a wise one. Sure, the tall folks could duck through the door – but why not make it as easy as possible to access your business?

The big buzz word in the digital media space is for a company to say they are “mobile first.” Facebook is a big example of this – saying they will build for the phone screen first, then extrapolate to the desktop computer. This strategy is hot for two reasons. First, a practical one: building apps for the somewhat simpler, smaller and more limited phone screen provides focus and elegance. When you “size up” to the desktop, you’ve already proved that your concept works on the simpler platform. Second, creating for mobile as a primary area capitalizes on its popularity and accelerating use.

If in the Boise market mobile use grew 36 percent over 18 months – it is likely to continue to grow at a fast pace (our survey was taken before Christmas, and I think it’s fair to say you could add another 2-3% to that number already). The smartphone for many is the last thing they look at each night, the first thing they look at in the morning – and something they interact with all day long, never more than five feet away from their hand.

The key difference between social media and mobile is a concept as old as the modern Internet itself: push versus pull. Social media allows a business to “push” its information to consumers. The latest specials, a big sale, information on a new location or general branding. This has incredible value – as reaching a targeted, interested audience with a relevant message has incredible power. It has revolutionized the way businesses communicate with a customer. Just a few years ago the only way to have a dialogue with consumers was with traditional media – or a readerboard out front. Now conversations can happen in real-time. However, gathering mass is exceedingly difficult. I saw a recent Craigslist ad for a local business for sale that noted a “successful Facebook page” as a selling point. Some research showed the Facebook page had 208 likes. While those might be highly targeted folks, it’s not enough to make a dent in most businesses – and that level of “success” is far from atypical.

Mobile is a pull medium. Users seek you out on their terms. But the timing of that information seeking is key: it is usually when they are a ways down the purchasing funnel and want to buy. A recent national research project titled “The Mobile Movement” shows when a user searches for a business on mobile, 61% call that business and 59% walk in. Big numbers. They need your address. Your phone number. Your current sales.

But what happens all too often is anticipointment (my favorite made-up word): They have high hopes, but when they interact with you on their small screen they have a poor experience. It’s more than likely that the website is not mobile optimized – which means small text, lots of pinching-to-zoom, navigation elements that may not work – and perhaps even Adobe Flash elements that just plain don’t show up. If you want customers to have a frictionless experience with you, this is not the way to make it happen. And since this is likely their first active engagement with you – having a good experience is key.

A 2012 Google study shows that a mobile-optimized website produces a 75% higher rate of engagement per visit for mobile users – consisting of increased revenue and pageviews. That same study also shows that one in every five mobile website visits lead to an immediate call to the business. And one more stat: searches on mobile have increased more than four-fold since 2010. 400%.

Any discussion of best practices ultimately boils down to money. Setting up a social media account on Facebook or Twitter is largely free. A business owner can at least get the ball rolling themselves without paying a dime: Upload your logo, plop down some content, follow some folks and you’re off and running. While this doesn’t mean a strong social strategy that will drive business is in place, it is at least “free” to do so (not to account for the time spent which certainly has value). Mobile is different, of course. Most businesses do not have in-house resources to build out a mobile-optimized site. Perhaps they have a current web presence that was built out for $1,000 or so a few years ago that is “good enough,” but isn’t ready for mobile. Fair enough. But sites built using “responsive design” will look good on any screen – the giant MacBook all the way down to the tiny Android – all using the same site framework. A good designer will be able to do this affordably – and it should be a requirement for any new web product or project.

There is only so much time in the day and money in the bank – but as mobile grows, rapidly, ignoring this space will become harder and harder. Ultimately the investment of consumers will go to the businesses who have the best customer experience – and the tallest doors.

Editor’s notes: The Google data referenced here came from this repository of awesome. Don Day is the former editor of and current Internet Sales & Product Manager for KTVB (where he’s spent 14 years trying to figure out the answer to the question “what’s next?”).