Where does mobile fit in the social media discussion?

If you’ve snooped around the site, you probably know that mobility is coming along a lot more slowly than I feel like it should. For every business out there doing a good job ramping up mobile marketing there’s probably a few thousand doing nothing. Why is a little hard for me to fathom – mobile is a preferred medium for Millennial-aged consumers, who control more disposable income than any generation in history. Why you’d refuse to communicate with these customers on their own terms is beyond me.

Well, maybe not. Mobile is comparatively new for most corporate decision-makers, most of who fail to understand the real extent of its capabilities. Sure, new technologies and practices often take longer to get traction in the marketplace than we’d expect – I remember the result of a poll from about 1996 or so that said less than half the US population had even heard of the Internet, and at that point in time the Net was being dramatically underused, as well.

Recently, though, I’ve noticed a phenomenon that concerns me – even when dealing with corporate managers who are clearly very excited about integrating mobile into their activities, it’s extremely hard to have a strategic conversation and migrate up the organizational ladder. Instead, there’s a tendency to lock the discussion up at the mid-management/tactical execution level. Rather than pursuing a coherent mobile strategy, far too many organizations seem to want to dip their toes into the stream by “doing a project.” In our current environment, where extreme caution rules the day, it’s understandable that people don’t want to over-commit, but at the same time diving in without a strategic plan or a sufficient grounding in the mobile landscape doesn’t mitigate risk, it creates it. I find myself wondering how many mobile pilots out there have failed for just this reason, and how often those failures concluded that “mobile doesn’t work” instead of the actual reason – “we did it all wrong because we refused to invest in doing it right.”

I’m afraid of the answer.

From my perspective, we need to be having strategic conversations with the C Suite instead of making timid tactical plans with the manager level. Not that managers have nothing to offer, obviously, but it’s not their job to consider these kinds of initiatives at the levels they need to be addressed.

Perhaps mobile’s relegation to tactical status is partly a result of “new” factor noted above. But based on some recent discussions I’m beginning to suspect that I may be seeing an enduring reality instead of the normal uncertainty that surrounds innovation. For one thing, mobility isn’t a stand-alone – it integrates with just about everything else you do, but unless you have other channels driving attention to it you’re not going to realize any results at all. (Not yet, anyway. When the day comes where every organization has a WAP site and mobile search allows any user to find it quickly, sure. But that’s a few years off.) When we pitch mobile we talk about integrating it into existing organizational strategic initiatives – which is just good sense – but at some level you can’t help feeling like you’re trying to sneak into the meeting. I imagine some smart executives, once they begin to understand mobile, are going to see it in the same way.

The second factor is that mobile is currently being overshadowed by our exploding awareness of social media. Want to know what a tipping point feels like? Stick your head out the window. A number of factors have really caused the Web 2.0 wave to crest in recent weeks – big deals involving players like Google and Facebook’s decision to open its network up to users and developers have played major roles in putting a larger, more ambitious context around things like MySpace, Second Life, LinkedIn, etc.

Mobility’s profile is going to continue rising, and the pace is going to quicken dramatically. But I suspect that this time next year we’re going to see it as an enabler of social media applications – that is, social media will be the big strategic project and mobile will be one of the tools in the tactics box, along with 2L, Facebook, blogging, podcasting, and who knows what else.

Lest anybody out there reads this as somehow downgrading the importance of mobile, let me be clear. If your social media play doesn’t take full advantage of mobile you can go ahead and pack up shop now (unless you’re lucky enough to have competitors who also really don’t get it). A social media ecology that draws people together and provides ways for them to interact, share information and build community is fantastic, but in the absence of mobile it requires them to sit down at the computer and log in. The same ecology plus mobile takes all those things and puts them in the customer’s pocket, no matter where he or she may be.

If I’m out on Saturday night and looking to connect, it is of precisely zero value to have your social media ecology on my laptop back at the house.

If I can flip out my mobile and access you, however…

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4 responses to “Where does mobile fit in the social media discussion?

  1. Pingback: Obama campaign first to launch mobile, first to screw it up « Black Dog Strategic·

  2. Pingback: Obama campaign first to launch mobile, first to screw it up « Scholars and Rogues·

  3. Sam, it’s so weird that I’m only a week into my new job, and already what you are discussing is something I can personally attest to seeing; I laughed out loud when I read this…. here’s why:

    As you may or may not know, I just finished my very first week as a brand new PM in the e-Business division of a major bank. Almost immediately after sitting in my new chair, I was handed my first project… a great big initiative that would immensely broaden personal web banking capabilities of anyone that wanted it. I can’t get into too much detail, but one of the major components (and least understood by all involved in the last week) was MOBILE. Yes, that’s exactly right, a mobile capability that would not just enable, but empower web bankers to become the savvy money managers that they wanted to become right from the powerful little Star Trek-esque device that they are never without. I won’t bother ranting about the potential that this project has…. OR HAD. Yes, that’s right, past tense boys and girls… in my first week, I managed to get introduced to, acquainted with, even excited about, and then witnessed the temporary ‘death’ of the entire project. I say death, because around here, when something is moved back or halted, it’s “killed,” so I am already known as a project killer. Spiffy, huh?

    More like frustrating as hell…. to see something that you believe in and know will work (if done properly) just pushed back, while we fall further behind competitors. It’s just funny though, because of the reasons why…. Sam, you’re totally right when you say that these ideas get lost in mid-management. Actually, the driving force behind mobile IS a mid-level manager, however, she is one of a few… and the rest have superseded her. While the C Suite sees the value, I am convinced that they see too many other values to act…. and wow, how frustrating it is to see it end up like this. I suppose the good news is that the project (another funny thing you said…. the whole mobile “component” is just that, a part of a project. No full blown mobile initiative here, no sir!) is on hold… so life may be breathed back into it. And man, I hope I get to be the one to do it!

  4. You point to one of the most frustrating dynamics in the biz – when something is new, it tends to have work its way up the chain because the early adopters are younger. In the 1990s I got to be the Internet expert because nobody older than me thought it was real.

    I guess the org challenge you face is identifying the most likely promotion point – where’s the affected director or VP who’s most likely to get it – and then selling the idea to that person. You’ll have to create a champion.

    Not easy, but don’t sell yourself short. And as always, if I can help let me know….

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