Will Today’s Students Push More Companies to Embrace Social Learning?

Social learningVia newsgroups, bulletin boards, and other information-sharing platforms, learning in various forms was one of the earliest social uses of digital networking. Moving into the Internet, World Wide Web, and social media eras, the opportunities to teach and learn online expanded beyond what even an optimistic dreamer might’ve envisioned decades ago.

From informal crowdsourcing of research on Twitter to comprehensive collaboration systems that use gamification to encourage employees to help other, companies have lots of ways to enable their employees to learn on the job—and specifically, to help each other learn on the job. These social learning opportunities include real-time training (delivering information when and where an employee needs to apply it, rather than offline in a classroom), capturing expertise and market insights from wherever in the organization they might exist, helping new employees get oriented and productive, developing mentoring networks, and helping blended workforces build a new sense of community in the aftermath of mergers and acquisitions.

Given the vital role of communication in corporate training, were we intrigued to read the results of a survey of human resources executives discussed recently in Talent Management. The research measured how important social technology was to nine major HR functions, from recruiting to career and succession planning. The respondents listed employee recruiting as the most important HR application of social technology. This certainly makes sense; as the article’s author points out, recruiting is a social activity to begin with. Moreover, recruiting is a key performance metric for HR managers, so they would naturally be interested in tools to help them perform better. As we’ve highlighted here and in our textbooks, companies such as VMWare and Zappos have jumped on social recruiting in order to compete for the top talent in their industries.

The most surprising finding from the survey was the middling level of importance these HR managers attached to social learning. With the rich history of networked learning and the cost-effective opportunities for getting vital information where it needs to be in the organization—not to mention all the ways employees are already learning via social media—we might hope that the one functional area most responsible for employee development would view social learning in a more positive light.

On the other hand, given all the challenges involved in establishing new systems and processes, perhaps this lukewarm level of interest with HR shouldn’t be so surprising. The article points out that social media have been an area of concern for HR, considering the potential consequences of inappropriate use and a lingering misunderstanding about the differences between social technology in a business context and social media in a public context. Losing at least some degree of control over a core function such as training might be an issue as well.

Looking forward, we suspect that in much the same way that the “bring your own device” phenomenon forced many IT departments to figure out how to safely incorporate personal devices on company networks, a “create your own training” phenomenon led by independently minded and digitally enabled employees might push more HR departments to embrace social learning.

One of the most noticeable attributes of the millennial/Generation Y and Generation Z workforces is the demand for a digital experience in the workplace that mirrors the digital experience in their personal lives. Employees who grew up using social media as an all-purpose recommendation-engine/status-updater/question-answerer are likely to expect the same capabilities on the job—and may well create it themselves if their companies don’t have the necessary systems in place.

Hall of Fame: Cemex and VMWare Prove the Benefits of Professional-Grade Social Networking

Cemex Shift logoThe “social” label in “social networking” and the consumer-entertainment origins of some of the most popular platforms can sometimes create the impression that these systems aren’t really professional-grade communication technologies. However, if one looks past the fun and frivolity of social media, it’s fascinating to see how some heavy-duty industrial and high-tech firms are putting these tools to use.

Two of our favorite examples are Cemex and VMWare. Both are about as far as you can get from the consumer/retail/entertainment arena, but both companies make extensive use of social networking and related technologies.

Cemex: A century-old company leaps into the 21st century with social innovation

Cemex is a Mexican concrete and cement giant, with 44,000 employees in more than 50 countries. After a period of worldwide expansion that began in the 1990s, it now operates quarries, cement plants, and other facilities on every continent except Antarctica. Facing a triple challenge of innovating materials for demanding building designs, operating more efficiently to preserve profitability, and reducing its environmental footprint, Cemex realized it needed to tap the expertise of all its people in new and better ways.

The company’s response to this multilayered challenge was an award-winning online collaboration platform called Shift, which combines social networking, wikis, blogs, a Twitter-like microblogging system, social bookmarking, videoconferencing, a trend-spotting tool called Shift Radar, and more. A custom mobile app lets employees access the system wherever their work takes them.

Ninety-five percent of Cemex employees now use Shift and have formed nearly 3,000 online communities based on technical specialties and shared interests. That level of engagement is paying off in numerous ways, such as launching a new global brand of ready-mix concrete in one-third the expected time, nearly tripling the company’s use of renewable energy, and reducing carbon dioxide emissions by almost 2 million metric tons.

VMWare: Hundreds of social media accounts, groups, and forums keep a half-million customers connected

VMWare is a $6 billion software company whose specialty is virtualization, a software technique that lets a single computer act like multiple, independent machines. Virtualization is a critical technology behind cloud computing and much of today’s information technology (IT) infrastructure, but it’s not exactly the sort of trendy topic that blows up on Twitter or prompts a million “you have to see this” shares on Facebook.

In spite of being far removed from the consumer sphere, VMWare is social through and through. Its community portal is perhaps the most extensive we’ve ever seen, with hundreds of official social media accounts and groups focused on specific technical or business issues, including nearly a hundred Twitter accounts alone.

As an example of the company’s commitment to social media, VMWare was one of the earliest adopters of social recruiting. After a simple experiment with Facebook job postings proved successful, the company realigned its entire recruiting strategy around social networking. Two key benefits of the new approach are establishing contact with high-value software talent the company hadn’t been in touch with before and giving the company and job candidates the chance to learn more about each other outside the narrow confines of the screening and recruiting process.

The social recruiting effort has been so successful that VMWare continues to expand it. Moving forward, the firm is focusing on expanding its use of mobile recruiting apps and in helping employees become effective “brand advocates” for the company in their own social networks.


Adapted from current and forthcoming editions of Bovée and Thill’s business communication texts. To see more examples of how today’s companies are applying fundamental communication skills in the context of new technologies, request examination copies.

Evidence-Based Advice for Improving Mobile Communication

Mobile UsabilityJakob Nielsen has long been a respected authority on website usability, and in recent years he has turned his attention to mobile devices. A key benefit of the advice he and his colleagues dispense to clients and readers is extensive usability testing to measure what really works and what doesn't. The book Mobile Usability, which he co-authored with Raluca Budiu, offers numerous insights into the communication experience on smartphones and tablets, including an entire chapter on writing for mobile devices. It's well worth the read if you are integrating mobile in your business communication course.

For example, Nielsen and Budiu cite research conducted at the University of Alberta that demonstrated how reading comprehension can drop by half when readers switch from full-size PC screens to phones. They explain the two major reasons comprehension suffers on mobile devices:

  • With less information in view on these smaller screens, readers have to rely more on memory to keep individual points in context. Given the fallibility of human memory and the distracting environments in which mobile reading often takes place, it's easy to see how readers can lose track.
  • The smaller the screen, the more scrolling is required to consume content—and scrolling introduces multiple problems. First, it takes time away from reading, and even these fractions of seconds interrupt the process of fixing information in short-term memory. Second, after each scrolling action, readers need to relocate the transition point between read and unread material to make sure they haven't missed anything. Third, scrolling diverts attention from reading while users find and activate whatever paging controls are in place on the screen.

On this third point about mechanisms for scrolling, something we've noticed ourselves lately is that the variety of paging strategies now in place with various websites, apps, and devices adds to the navigational confusion, which must in turn be harming comprehension. If you read from a variety of sources and use multiple devices and apps, every time you switch contexts you have to engage at least a few brain cells to figure out how to navigate. Swipe vertically? Swipe horizontally? (Or in some cases, swipe horizontally to jump to a new article and swipe vertically to read within the current article.) Tap some vaguely defined and unlabeled margin area near the side of the screen? Find and tap a labeled button or arrow? These are all tiny interruptions, to be sure, but every interruption is a threat to comprehension and retention.

Given how many business professionals now rely on mobile devices for communication, these findings emphasize how critical it is to write short, focused, linear messages for today's readers.

Nielsen's consulting firm also publishes a wide range of articles on usability and communication issues that you may find interesting for classroom discussion.

Why Mobile Needs to Be Part of Your Business Communication Course

ClickMobileChances are your business communication syllabus is already packed as you try to cover everything from business English to a wide range of message types to recent advances in digital and social media. It’s a fair question then: Do you really need to find the time and space to add mobile communication to your course?

We’re adding mobile coverage to our three business communication textbooks based on the same mandate that we’ve always used to modify and expand our coverage over time: anything that is a significant aspect of contemporary business communication should be represented in a textbook on the subject so that students will be aware of it and prepared for it when they enter the workforce.

(With a portfolio of three communication books, we do have the opportunity to adjust what we cover and how deeply. All three books continue to evolve as the field changes, but Business Communication Essentials offers greater focus on business English fundamentals, Excellence in Business Communication is our best fit for mid- and upper-level courses that explore a wide range of writing projects, and Business Communication Today is our full-spectrum text with coverage of everything from brief messages to business video.)

If one accepts the premise that a business communication textbook and course should address all the significant aspects of current professional practice, the next question is whether mobile communication qualifies as significant.

Based on a comprehensive review of academic and trade literature, including numerous surveys regarding adoption of mobile communication, in our view the answer to that question is an undeniable “yes.” Consider these facts and figures (this recent post discusses these phenomena and lists the sources for these statistics):

  • Mobile has become the primary communication tool for many business professionals, including a majority of executives under age 40.
  • Email and web browsing rank first and second in terms of the most common nonvoice uses of smartphones
  • More email messages are now opened on mobile devices than on PCs.
  • Roughly half of U.S. consumers use a mobile device exclusively for their online search needs
  • Last year, U.S internet users passed the crossover point and now spend more time accessing the Internet from mobile devices than from PCs.
  • Many online activities that eventually migrate to a PC screen start out on a mobile screen.
  • Globally, roughly 80 percent of Internet users access the web at least some of the time with a mobile device.

Put simply, businesses have no choice but to adopt mobile communication strategies because that’s where an increasing percentage of their customers and their employees expect to find information. After all, there’s not much value in crafting effective messages if the intended audiences never see them. Conventional reports and other documents remain vital, of course, but these days business communication also takes place within mobile apps, on mobile-optimized websites, across location-aware social networks, and in other venues that we couldn’t imagine just a few years ago.

Mobile communication is more than a necessity, however. It’s an exciting opportunity for businesses and, by extension, for all of us involved in helping to develop the next generation of business communicators. Interactive mobile apps, for example, can be a much more effective way to engage and communicate with internal and external stakeholders than conventional print or digital media.

The fundamental communication skills you’ve always taught are still essential, to be sure. In fact, they’re more important than ever, because reading on small screens is more challenging than reading on PCs or paper. Writing audience-oriented messages that are clear, logical, and concise is a make-or-break skill in the mobile environment.

To help you expand your coverage to include mobile, we are integrating mobile communication principles, examples, and techniques throughout our textbooks, as you can see in our new editions of Business Communication Essentials and Business Communication Today. (Excellence in Business Communication, 12th Edition, with full mobile coverage, will be published in January 2016.) We’ve added a variety of model documents, activities, and communication cases that feature mobile. This way, students can learn the fundamentals and have the opportunity to apply them in various media, from conventional printed reports to a wide range of digital media, including mobile devices.

It’s an exciting time to be teaching business communication, and we look forward to supporting you with textbooks that help you prepare students for this new era in business.


Screenshot: ClickSoftware

Free Resource for Adopters: Bovée and Thill’s Guide to Business Communication Videos

YouTube-logo-full_colorBovée and Thill's Guide to Videos for Business Communication is now available free to all adopters of Bovée and Thill business communication texts. The guide, prepared by Dr. Maria Schellhase of the College of Southern Nevada, has links to nearly 50 online videos in 27 subject categories. The guide includes discussion questions for each video to help you make the best use of these programs in your classroom.

You can find the guide under the Instructor heading on your book's Real-Time Updates homepage.

Job Search Season: Advice to Help Students Maximize Their Mobile Devices

 Cummins job appThe mobile business communication revolution is changing how employers recruit new talent—and how job candidates can and should look for opportunities.

Mobile Recruiting Is on the Rise

Many companies have optimized their careers websites for mobile access, and some have even developed mobile apps that offer everything from background information on what it’s like to work there to application forms that students can fill out right from their phones.

However, students need to be advised not to abandon a job application or an investigation into a potential employer just because the firm doesn’t have a careers app or a mobile-friendly job site. Creating apps and mobile-friendly websites obviously takes time and money, and many employers are still in the process of optimizing their online career materials for mobile devices. In a recent survey, 40 percent of mobile users said they would abandon a nonmobile job application—a distressingly high number in a slow job market.

Integrating Mobile into a Job-Search Strategy

In addition to researching companies and applying for openings, integrating a mobile device into the job search strategy can help with networking and staying on top of active job applications. For instance, some companies don’t wait long after extending an offer; if they don’t hear back from the top candidate quickly, they’ll move on to their next choice. By staying plugged in via their mobile devices, students won’t let any opportunities pass them by.

Encourage students to think of ways to use their mobile device to enhance their personal brands and online portfolios. If they want to work in retail, for example, they could take photos of particularly good or particularly bad merchandising displays and post them with thoughtful and professional commentary on their social media accounts. Employers doing background research on them will see these posts and recognize candidates who are invested in their careers and the industry as a whole. Many of the tools students can use to build their personal brands are available as mobile apps, including blogging platforms, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

In addition, dozens of apps are available to help with various aspects of the job search. Many job boards have mobile apps, and résumé-creation apps let students quickly modify a résumé when they come across a good opportunity. Business-card scanning apps make it easy to keep digital copies of business cards, so they’ll never lose important contact information. Note-taking apps are a great way to plan for interviews and record post-interview notes. A phone’s scheduling capability can help students stay on top of interview schedules, application deadlines, and follow-up communications. Audio and video recording features or a practice-interview app help students polish their interviewing skills. And if an employer wants to interview a candidate via Cisco Webex or another online meeting system, those apps are available for phones and tablets as well.

All those mobile devices might have been a bane in the classroom from time to time, but they are powerful tools to help students launch successful business careers.

Learn More About the Mobile Revolution in Business Communication

These posts offer additional insights into the exciting changes that mobile is bringing to business communication—and the importance of covering mobile concepts and skills in the business communication course:

Your Students Are Racing Toward a Mobile Future, a downloadable PDF that includes a sample of the mobile coverage in our latest editions and information on requesting review copies.

The Mobile Revolution: The Parallels with Social Media

The Rapid Rise of Mobile Business Communication

How Mobile Technologies Are Changing Business Communication

How Is the Mobile Revolution Affecting Your Business Communication Course?

Our online magazine, How the Mobile Revolution Is Changing Business Communication, offers a variety of original and curated pieces on mobile usage in business communication.

Sources: “Top 25 Must-Have iPhone Apps for Your Job Search,” Career Rocketeer, accessed 6 January 2015, http://careerrocketeer.com; David Cohen, “Social Recruiting Goes Mobile,” AllFacebook blog, 23 December 2013, http://allfacebook.com; “The Rise of Mobile Job Search,” Come Recommended blog, 12 June 2013, http://comerecommended.com.

Hall of Shame: Taxi Boss’s Appalling Metaphor

Taxi"I try to equate this illegal operation of [. . .] as a terroristic act like ISIS invading the Middle East" he said, "It is exactly the same menace."

Whoa. That must be one horrible outfit the speaker is referring to, to warrant comparison with a terrorist group so brutal that al-Qaeda cut ties with it.

The speaker is Alex Friedman, general manager of two Philadelphia taxi companies and president of the Pennsylvania Taxi Association, and he said this at a board meeting of the Philadelphia Parking Authority. And the diabolical operation in question? uberX, the ride-sharing service that is winning fans among consumers looking for an alternative to conventional taxi service—and winning enemies among taxi companies for presenting a form of competition they consider unfair and even illegal in some instances. (The uberX operation Friedman refers to recently began transporting passengers in Philly, even though the Parking Authority considers it an illegal operation and threatens to fine Uber drivers and impound their cars.)

Legal issues aside, referring to any business operation as a terrorist organization is an absurd use of metaphor. Moreover, it is—or at least should be—an ineffective, credibility-destroying communication strategy to use with any rational audience.

If you need to give your students an example of metaphorical speech and hyperbole gone horribly wrong, chances are you'll never find a better/worse example than this.


Photo credit: blu-news.org

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

How Mobile Technologies Are Changing Business Communication

iPadIn our last post, we explored the magnitude of the mobile communication revolution. Now for a quick look at the impact mobile is having on business communication. The rise of mobile has some obvious implications, such as the need for websites to be mobile friendly. Anyone who has tried to browse a conventional website on a tiny screen or fill in complicated online forms using the keypad on your phone knows how frustrating the experience can be.

However, device size and portability are only the most obvious changes. Just as with social media, the changes brought about by mobile go far deeper than the technology itself. Mobile changes the way people communicate, which has profound implications for virtually every aspect of business communication.

Social media pioneer Nicco Mele coined the term radical connectivity to describe “the breathtaking ability to send vast amounts of data instantly, constantly, and globally.” Mobile plays a major and ever-expanding role in this phenomenon by keeping people connected 24/7, wherever they may be. People who’ve grown up with mobile communication technology expect to have immediate access to information and the ability to stay connected to their various social and business networks.

Here are the most significant ways mobile technology is changing the practice of business communication:

  • Constant connectivity is a mixed blessing. As with social media, mobile connectivity can blur the boundaries between personal and professional time and space, preventing people from fully disengaging from work during personal and family time. On the other hand, it can give employees more flexibility to meet their personal and professional obligations. In this regard, mobile plays an important role in efforts to reduce operating costs through telecommuting and other nontraditional work models.
  • Small mobile displays and sometimes-awkward input technologies present challenges for creating and consuming content, whether it’s typing an email message or watching a video. For example, email messages need to be written and formatted differently to make them easier to read on mobile devices.
  • Mobile users are often multitasking—roughly half of mobile phone usage happens while people are walking, for instance—so they can’t give full attention to the information on their screens. Moreover, mobile use often occurs in environments with multiple distractions and barriers to successful communication.
  • As every instructor has no doubt observed, mobile communication (particularly text messaging) has put pressure on traditional standards of grammar, punctuation, and writing in general.
  • Mobile devices can serve as sensory and cognitive extensions. For example, they can help people experience more of their environment (such as augmented reality apps that superimpose information on a live camera view) and have instant access to information without relying on faulty and limited human memory. The addition of location-aware content, such as facility maps and property information, enhances the mobile experience.
  • Mobile devices create a host of security and privacy concerns, for end users and corporate technology managers alike. Companies are wrestling with the “bring your own device” or “BYOD” phenomenon, in which employees want to be able to access company networks and files with their personal smartphones and tablets, both in the office and away from it. However, these devices don’t always have the rigorous security controls that corporate networks need, and users don’t always use the devices in secure ways.
  • Mobile tools can enhance productivity and collaboration by making it easier for employees to stay connected and giving them access to information and work tasks during forced gaps in the workday or while traveling.
  • Mobile apps can assist in a wide variety of business tasks, from research to presentations.
  • Mobile connectivity can accelerate decision making and problem solving by putting the right information in the hands of the right people at the right time. For example, if the people in a decision-making meeting need more information, they can do the necessary research on the spot. Mobile communication also makes it easier to quickly tap into pockets of expertise within a company. Customer service can be improved by making sure technicians and other workers always have the information they need right at hand. Companies can also respond and communicate faster during crises.
  • With interactivity designed to take advantage of the capabilities of mobile devices (including cameras, accelerometers, compasses, and GPS), companies can create more engaging experiences for customers and other users.

For the business communication course, mobile adds some interesting twists and challenges, but it also creates the opportunity to tap into students’ experience with and enthusiasm for mobile devices. In future posts, we’ll be looking at some specific issues in mobile communication, including writing and designing for small screens.

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


Photo source: Sean MacEntee

Sources: Nicco Mele, The End of Big: How the Internet Makes David the New Goliath (New York: St. Martin’s Press: 2013), 1–2; “JWT’s 13 Mobile Trends for 2013 and Beyond,” J. Walter Thompson website, 2 April 2013, www.jwt.com; The Changing Role of Mobile Communications in the Workplace, white paper, Frost & Sullivan, accessed 8 February 2014, www.frost.com; Top 10 Ways Successful Small Businesses Use Mobile Tech, white paper, T-Mobile, 2012; Armen Ghazarian, “How Do Users Interact with Mobile Devices,” Medium.com, 29 November 2013, http://medium.com; “Bring Your Own Device: BYOD Is Here and You Can’t Stop It,” Garner, accessed 9 February 2014, www.garner.com; Jessica Twentyman, “Deploying Smartphones, Tables, and Apps for a New Employee Communication Era,” SCM, January/February 2013, 28–29; The Changing Role of Mobile Communications in the Workplace, Frost & Sullivan; Aaref Hilaly, “The Biggest Opportunity in Mobile That No One Is Talking About,” LinkedIn, 17 December 2013, www.linkedin.com; Michael Saylor, The Mobile Wave: How Mobile Intelligence Will Change Everything (New York: Vanguard Press, 2012), 10; Milton Kazmeyer, “The Impact of Wireless Communication in the Workplace,” Houston Chronicle, accessed 10 February 2014, http://smallbusiness.chron.com; Gregg Hano, “The Power of Corporate Communications on Mobile Apps,” Mag+, 1 August 2013, www.magplus.com.

The Rapid Rise of Mobile Business Communication

EmotionAs much of a game-changer as social media have been, some experts predict that mobile communication will change the nature of business and business communication even more. Venture capitalist Joe Schoendorf says that “Mobile is the most disruptive technology that I have seen in 48 years in Silicon Valley.” Researcher Maribel Lopez calls mobile “the biggest technology shift since the Internet.”

Many companies are scrambling to integrate mobile technology, from internal communication systems to banking to retail. Mobile apps and communication systems can boost employee productivity, help companies form closer relationships with customers and business partners, and spur innovation in products and services. As one indicator of this shift, you’ve probably noticed the growth of websites changing to a mobile-first design that works better on tablets and phones.

Whether it’s emailing, social networking, watching video, or doing research, the percentage of communication and media consumption performed on mobile devices continues to grow. For millions of people around the world, a mobile device is their primary way, if not their only way, to access the Internet. Globally, roughly 80 percent of Internet users access the web at least some of the time with a mobile device.

Mobile has become the primary communication tool for many business professionals, including a majority of executives under age 40. Email and web browsing rank first and second in terms of the most common non-voice uses of smartphones, and more email messages are now opened on mobile devices than on PCs. Roughly half of U.S. consumers use a mobile device exclusively for their online search needs, and many online activities that eventually migrate to a PC screen start out on a mobile screen. For many people, the fact that a smartphone can make phone calls is practically a secondary consideration; data traffic from mobile devices far outstrips voice traffic.

Moreover, mobile phones—particularly smartphones—have become intensely personal devices in ways that PCs never did. For many users, the connection is so close they can feel a sense of panic when they don’t have frequent access to their phones. When people are closely connected to their phones, day and night, they are more closely connected to all the information sources, conversations, and networks that those phones can connect to. As a result, mobile connectivity can start to resemble a continuous stream of conversations that never quite end, which influences the way business communicators need to plan and produce documents and messages. If wearable technologies such as Google Glass and smartwatches become mainstream devices, they will contribute even more to this shift in behaviors.

The parallels between social media and mobile communication are striking: Both sets of technologies change the nature of communication, alter the relationships between senders and receivers, create opportunities as well as challenges, and force business professionals to hone new skills. In fact, much of the rise in social communication can be attributed to the connectivity made possible by mobile devices. Companies that work to understand and embrace mobile, both internally and externally, stand the best chance of capitalizing on this monumental shift in the way people communicate.

Coming up next in our series on mobile: How mobile technologies are changing business communication.

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

Sources: “More Than Nine in 10 Internet Users Will Go Online via Phone,” eMarketer, 6 January 2014, www.emarketer.com; Jordie can Rijn, “The Ultimate Mobile Email Statistics Overview,” Emailmonday.com, accessed 9 February 2014, www.emailmonday.com; “The Mobile Revolution Is Just Beginning,” press release, World Economic Forum, 13 September 2013, www.weforum.org; Maribel Lopez, “Three Trends That Change Business: Mobile, Social and Cloud,” Forbes, 28 January 2012, www.forbes.com; Kevin Custis, “Three Ways Business Can Be Successful on Mobile,” Forbes, 15 November 2013, www.forbes.com; “IBM Survey: Speed and Analytics Key Drivers in Mobile Adoption for Organizations,” press release, IBM, 19 November 2013, www.ibm.com; Christina “CK” Kerley, The Mobile Revolution & B2B, white paper, www.b2bmobilerevolution.com; Jessica Lee, “46% of Searchers Now Use Mobile Exclusively to Research [Study],” Search Engine Watch, 1 May 2013, http://searchenginewatch.com.

Photo source