The Mobile Revolution: The Parallels with Social Media

Twitter phoneAs we monitored the emergence of mobile business communication over the past few years, we were struck by the parallels with the rise of social media. These similarities and the documented growth of mobile usage convinced us it was time to integrate mobile in our business communications texts, starting with our editions coming out in January.

(Note that by “mobile,” we’re referring to tablets, smartphones, and all the various sizes and form factors in between.)

Here are the parallels we’ve noticed:

Larger technological, social, and demographic forces at play

As with social media, mobile communication is a case of both necessity and opportunity. Businesses are seeing the need to make their communications more mobile friendly because more of their stakeholders are using mobile devices. In particular, the next demographic wave of employees and consumers is less PC-centric and expects to be able to communicate using mobile devices. You’ve probably noticed one manifestation of this already, with more companies adopting mobile-first web design, abandoning the highly structured and detailed web designs optimized for larger screens and making their websites more mobile and touch friendly. (One could argue that some of these designs are now less usable on conventional PC screens, but the companies making the changes clearly see significant numbers of their constituents switching to mobile.)

At the same time, mobile represents a huge opportunity because communication and content consumption on mobile devices can be a more personal and pervasive experience. Smartphone users tend to keep their gadgets close at hand, night and day, unlike their computers, so they’re never out of touch for long. Through push notifications, interactive apps, and other methods, companies have more ways to stay connected with internal and external audiences.

Variable rates of adoption

Of course, not every company needs or perceives a need to rush headlong into mobile. Adoption rates will vary widely across industries and companies and within individual companies. With social media, we’ve seen instances where adoption within a company varies dramatically from one business unit to another, so it’s difficult to make blanket statements about media usage. For example, a few years ago an instructor whose students were mostly IBM employees wrote to say that those students rarely or never used social media, so the instructor didn’t see the point of covering it in the course. However, at that time, IBM already had hundreds of employee blogs, wikis, and other social media activities (both internal and external). In fact, so many IBM employees were involved in social media by then that the company had already issued a comprehensive set of social computing guidelines.

Privacy, content ownership, and security issues

Because mobile, like social media, is partly driven by forces and trends outside the conventional corporate structure, it is creating similar headaches. For example, many IT departments are struggling with the “bring your own device” (BYOD) phenomenon, in which employees want to access corporate networks or conduct company business using their personal devices. This raises some sticky questions, such as who owns messages sent from personal devices, who is liable for ethical or legal mistakes made with these devices, and how companies can keep their networks and digital assets both accessible and protected at the same time. Alerting students to the broad outline of these issues will make them more responsible communicators on the job.

A necessary element in a comprehensive business communication curriculum

Directly or indirectly, mobile is going to influence the communication practices of graduates about to enter the workforce. As with social media, even companies that don’t yet use mobile extensively are still influenced by this phenomenon because it changes the overall communication dynamic. One of the foundations of successful communication is making the effort to communicate with people in the manner they want to use, and for an increasing number of constituents that manner is now mobile.

We believe the time is right to introduce mobile as a major new medium in the business communication curriculum, integrating it with coverage of basic concepts and skills development, including writing activities for mobile devices.

For more about mobile, see How the Mobile Revolution Is Changing Business Communication, an online magazine.

Photo credit: mkhmarketing