Re-thinking "Mobile Engagement"

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This post first appeared over at EngagingCities. 

It’s time to re-think mobile engagement. “Mobile” is no longer just a nice extra feature to add to your outreach strategy, or a buzzword to make your city appear forward-thinking. It’s rapidly becoming a necessity for reaching the greatest number and most diverse assortment of people - but there are several factors to consider for making mobile engagement as effective as possible in your community.

 

Growth of mobile users

It’s not just the fact that “mobile” in general is growing rapidly (as seen in this market forecast for mobile data use to increase to 13x that of today’s traffic by 2017). More significantly, a recent Pew study reveals an intriguing trend: certain demographics report that mobile phones are their primary tool for accessing the Internet. The “mostly mobile” Internet users, according to the report, include several minority groups such as young adults, non-whites, the less educated, and the less affluent. Some of these groups have limited access to PCs or laptops, but can use their mobile devices to go online. Others use mobile as simply the most convenient and habitual way to access information and accomplish daily tasks.

“For many [people], such as younger adults or lower-income Americans, cell phones are often a primary device for accessing online content—a development that has particular relevance to companies and organizations seeking to reach these groups,” said Aaron Smith, a Senior Researcher at the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project, on the Center’s website.

And yes, that includes civic planners. Since the current majority of “online civic communicators” are white adults (according to this infographic from eDemocracy.org), mobile engagement could be an important step for decision-makers wanting to hear from a broader spectrum of the population. But you can’t just slap an app on it and call it a day! There are other factors to consider.

Beyond the smartphone

With the advent of “mobile technology”, many outreach strategies have relied on shiny new tools like apps to stay in touch with the mobile population. But apps can be cumbersome or easily neglected by users unless there’s a strategy in place to keep the public interested and engaged. “Mobile” should be more than an app - it should be an experience that catches people where they stand and prompts them to make their voice heard. This can include discovery and wayfinding tools, eye-catching signage, and even “old-fashioned” methods like postcards - anything to provide an integrated experience that keeps people engaged and entices them to give feedback. These methods can also help you reach those “mostly mobile” users who might not otherwise know you have a mobile platform for your project.

It’s time for “mobile engagement 2.0” - which, as noted here on ThisBigCity, should include comprehensive, well-designed, and multi-functional tools, along with a hefty dose of creative strategy. This is exactly why at Urban Interactive Studio, we build more than platforms for public engagement. We help you go “beyond technology” to build relationships and experiences with participants that translate into better feedback for your projects - and ultimately, communities that better fit the needs of every citizen.