Social is on the move and it’s a one-way street

The speed at which smartphones and tablets are taking over the UK is being matched by the seemingly unstoppable march of social media, as Rebecca Burn-Callander discovers

There are currently more mobile phones than human beings on the planet. Sales of smartphones and tablets far outstrip those of the traditional desktop computer; global PC revenues were down 14 per cent in the first quarter of this year alone. Meanwhile smartphone sales are set to hit one billion units in 2013.

Alongside the rise of mobile in recent years, we have also seen the meteoric ascent of social media. The two have developed an almost symbiotic relationship. Facebook currently boasts over a billion active monthly users and more than 750 million of these are mobile users (26 million in the UK). Those who access the network from their smartphone are also far more engaged than their desk-bound counterparts, spending double the time on the site in any given session, according to comScore.

One brand that has successfully harnessed the power of social media on mobile is O2 Telefonica. In February, it launched O2 Tracks, an app that allows users to access the official UK top 40 hits. O2 chose Facebook as the exclusive platform for download. Facebook’s massive reach and viral sharing options meant that in just three days, the app reached 20 per cent of the entire UK population – that’s nine million Facebook users.

Paul Fabretti, head of social media at Telefonica explains: “By exclusively using Facebook we were able to catapult O2 Tracks to number six in the App Store within a few days of launch. This exceeded all our expectations.”

Smartphone users spend double the time on a website in any given session

Twitter is the other social leviathan swimming these social waters. Joe McEwan is communities manager for fruit-smoothie brand Innocent. As a brand dedicated to creating conversations with its fans since launch, a mobile social strategy has been integral to Innocent’s success.

“Twitter is very much a mobile platform, so we make sure that we share content that is suitable for smartphones,” says Mr McEwan. “No large HD quality videos that would take an age – and most of your battery life – to download.” All content must also be suitable for a small screen – no tiny fonts – and websites must be mobile-optimised, he adds.

The mobile-friendly stance has paid off. More than 50 per cent of users who accessed Innocent’s recent “Beat January” campaign, which aimed to cheer up those with the January blues, were using a mobile phone. “Day in, day out our Facebook and Twitter pages have some of the highest engagement levels of any brand in the social space,” says Mr McEwan.

His secret? “When we talk to people on these platforms, we don’t patronise people, we don’t bore them, and we’re always honest and open when it comes to answering people’s questions,” he says.

For games giant Electonic Arts, YouTube is the platform of choice for engaging with its users. The firm was recently placed first in the Social Brands 100 for its work on the video network with war game Battlefield. Its dedicated YouTube channel has notched up nearly 104 million views with more than 650,000 subscribers.

Communities manager Simon Stokes reckons that game theory is key to keeping fans interested. “The simplest principle is to ‘level up’,” he explains. “If you visit our page, then ‘like’ it; if you ‘like’ it then post a comment; if you post a comment, why not post a video. That’s pretty core game theory, but it works really well at getting closer to and more engaged with our audiences.”

It’s not all about the newfangled social networks, however. “Old-fashioned” SMS, MMS and e-mail are still social tools on mobiles. One company that knows all about using these channels to connect to users is Lumata, the mobile software firm behind Orange Wednesdays.

“Orange wanted to send a mobile two-for-one ticket straight to their customer’s handset,” says chief marketing officer Adhish Kulkarni. “You could receive it through e-mail, app or text.”  More than 70 million mobile vouchers were dispatched by Orange Wednesdays last year. “Wednesday has now become the day of the week you go to see a film,” says Mr Kulkarni. “It used to have one of the lowest audience numbers of the week and now it’s one of the most popular.”

But it’s not always easy to make a success of a mobile social campaign. “It’s our responsibility to get the coupon into the hands of the customer and allow that to be redeemed at the till within 15 seconds,” he says. “There are very high volumes of delivery and redemption. That’s hard to do for a million people – the pressure is on.”

Indeed, not everyone has cracked the secret to social success on a mobile platform. A recent study by Barclays found that 25 per cent of online businesses see “integrating and exploiting social media” as their main marketing challenge for 2013. Hardly the gung-ho attitude displayed by the big boys.

But as social media becomes an evermore important part of the marketing mix and smartphones take over even greater swathes of our daily lives, they soon won’t have much choice.