Keep an Eye on the Phone: Smart phone strategies can unleash influence

Posted on September 21, 2012

Keep an Eye on the Phone: Smart phone strategies can unleash influence

By Paul Fulton, Jr., Vice President

Apple sold 2 million iPhone 5’s within the first 24 hours, doubling the record set the iPhone 4S set just last year. And with this week’s release of iOS6, the hype around Apple has continued to build for a steady week and a half since it was first unveiled.

With eight hours of LTE browsing, an expanded screen, panoramic photo capabilities, Facebook integration and more, the iPhone 5 boasts features that likely will remain part of the public conversation for awhile – as we’ve already seen with humorous (scary?) outtakes of the new mapping feature.

But whether an Apple zealot or die-hard Android fan, one thing is certain: our smarter-than-ever phones are not just rectangular clunks of metal and glass.

They’re extensions of our identities. From personal and emotional to mundane and frivolous, our smart phones have evolved into an instant connection with content that influences our views in everything from religion and politics to movies and memes.

Oh. And we can call friends and family on them, too.

Maybe that’s why the announcement of a new smart phone elicits such an emotional response. Or why temporarily misplacing it returns another emotional response – panic. My pictures! My music! I was about to take my 100th consecutive turn on DrawSomething! How will I sneakily check Facebook at work since my network administrators block it?! INSTAGRAM!

That’s passion, folks. And it’s why communicators need to evaluate strategies that account for how people consume information – increasingly from smart phones.

And while many a PR agent will trot out “social” as the hot trend – that might a short-sighted view, like focusing only on a TV’s network news programs when a fuller scale of cable choices can present better storytelling options.

Just think how you use your smart phone on a lunch break: you may respond to texts; sift through e-mail; flip to Twitter; check the red update notification on Facebook; scroll through a few news sites; follow two new friends on Instagram; buy new shoes; and deposit a check via mobile banking.

In a very short amount of time, you’ve consumed written words, photography, and video – some user-generated, some editorially generated, and some corporate-generated. That’s a powerful medium for anyone seeking to influence people. (You also have a new pair of shoes.)

And with consumers adopting smart phones at an exponential pace, we can be sure mobile devices will only become glitzier tools, the power of which could rival positive TV exposure for some audiences.

A recent study by Nielsen found 13- to 17-years-olds and 25- to 34-year-olds are driving smart phone consumption – fifty-eight percent of teens owned a smart phone in July, as did 74 percent of young adults. Both age categories grew by double-digit percentages compared to the year before.

That’s why the research and strategic planning phase of some PR scenarios should seek to understand if target audiences are highly engaged with mobile devices, and, if so, how they interact with content:

  • If they’re active on social media applications, find out which ones, and give those channels life – with mobile visibility in mind;
  • If text has more pull, consumer loyalty may be earned by exchanging rewards with occasional marketing messages;
  • If you can sustain the stream of compelling content, you may consider an app with push notifications;
  • If they’re heavy business or personal travelers who search on the go, develop a mobile website that is compatible with smart phones and tablets;
  • If they read, watch or listen to traditional news via mobile sites, media relations can continue to bolster a company’s presence;
  • If they download podcasts, again, media relations could play a role – or explore nontraditional avenues with small, loyal audiences that are likely to take action;
  • If they read e-mail newsletters, evaluate the potential for a clever e-mail marketing campaign;
  • If they’re active content generators – taking photos, capturing video and recording audio – strategically leverage contests and other activities that appeal to that natural interest;
  • Promote real-world, off-line engagement opportunities consistently through the right mobile channels – for consumer audiences, that could be a series of in-store promotions; for business audiences, it might be a high-profile product launch at a trade show.

And the list goes on.

The smart phone – and the fact that it’s rarely, if ever, out of its owner’s sight – gives us the opportunity to marry traditional PR practices with new ideas and untapped avenues. But understanding how your target audience uses their device is key to integrating strategies that will achieve their desired influence.

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