If the medium and the offering are undeniably connected, then it would seem that social media and mobile phones are enjoying a blissful marriage since the last few months. Blackberry phones have been around for ages but the last one year has seen a phenomenal boom in Smartphones thanks to the attractiveness of Google’s mobile operating system Android. The Android marketplace, recently re-launched as Google Play, allows brands and developers to post applications for download either as free or paid offerings. Going by market surveys, Indian users are lapping up these applications by the thousands, creating a marvellous opportunity for brands that are not afraid to experiment with new media.
Mobile Apps for Social Media
Android-adapted versions of popular social networking websites like Facebook and LinkedIn have made it all the more easier for users of GPRS phones to check notifications and new connection requests on the go. These apps are a better alternative to access this sites than through the websites using an Internet browser as they store the user’s data details and the interface is adapted for maximising the size of an average Smartphone. For instance, logging into Facebook using a phone Internet browser takes an intolerably long time but downloading the app ensures that you can check your homepage, view photos and notifications and make comments in mere seconds. Likewise, the LinkedIn app has a dropdown menu that ensures that the small phone screen is not crowded with too many links. Skype, the leading Internet calling program also has an Android and iPhone app that makes it possible to chat with one’s contacts anytime, anyplace. However, the Android app has a limitation since it is not possible to video chat. The iPhone app however offers everything that the desktop program does. Not only do mobile apps improve a product’s connectivity and portability but they can also be instrumental in increasing usage by consumers. How often would one check one’s Twitter account if a computer was the only form of access? May be twice a day during work breaks? But shift that same offering to the mobile phone medium and the app encourages users to stay signed in all the time, able to check tweets as and when they are posted. To say that the usage increases phenomenally would be an understatement. Mobile apps make the product an indispensible part of users’ lives and effortlessly so.
Google’s data shows that 40 million Indians access the Internet through their mobile phones and 30 million apps are download each week. According to IT research firm CyberMedia, Smartphone sales rose to 11.2 million units in 2011, an 87% increase from the previous year. The Informate October 2010 track by Informate Mobile Intelligence shows that the number of users visiting an App store has jumped 108% in October 2010 versus the year ago period.
Leading Indian brands have been quick to take advantage of the mobile app explosion. Media houses like The Times of India and NDTV offer free apps that allow users to read news stories and headlines whenever they desire. Just Dial, the popular yellow page service offers a mobile app that eliminates the need to make a phone call to attain the details one desires. All the user has to do is key in their query and they can have the answer in seconds. Popular online free SMS websites like Way2Sms and FullonSms have gone mobile with their Android apps. Bejan Daruwala’s astrology service Ganesha Speaks is available free of cost on phones as well. So why do most brands offer free apps? Well, they almost always come with an upgradable paid version with more benefits and a free basic version is the best way to hook consumers and get them habituated to using the product. It isn’t only commercial enterprises that are going mobile. The NGO India Against Corruption, recently in the news for Anna Hazare’s Lokpal Bill campaign released a mobile app that has polling and Q & A links that allows supporters to join the fight against corruption using their mobile phones. Popular websites like the Hindi to English dictionary Shabdkosh.com have released mobile apps as well.
Applications in the online sphere have a very different connotation from mobile phone apps. They are usually games and quizzes created by independent users and sometimes leading gaming companies on social networking websites like Facebook. But one wonders why brands cannot employ this opportunity to create engaging games that help brand recall and loyalty. Though most brands today have an active presence on the social media sphere, the interaction with customers is limited to polls and responses to comments and messages. Applications would take the consumer experience of a brand a step further, while also helping build a community for brands a la the Sunsilk Gang of Girls.
However, there is another side to this story as well. Data from the Mobile Monday Mumbai February 2012 session conducted by Flurry indicates that only 5-10% of users continue to use an app after 6 months of download, making retention of users the chief challenge for brands and developers. However, it is unlikely that this data would hold true for apps like Facebook and LinkedIn where usage is a lifelong process. Given the current state of mobile apps in India, it may not be too unrealistic to predict the emergence of mobile-only social media utilities in the near future.
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