I participated in a panel discussion last week at SXSW Interactive that addressed some of the shortcomings of activity in social networks. One of those shortcomings we discussed was the inability of social network activity to translate into real world action.
For instance, simply because someone adds a cause to his or her Facebook page does not necessarily mean this person is donating and/or volunteering time to this particular cause. I think one of the ways this kind of real-world inertia can be overcome is through mobile technology.
Real responses in real time
The immediate nature of SMS communication, aka text messaging, combined with geotagging and the ease of response create an ideal scenario to encourage real-world action. Marketers may be the first to tap into this technology, but the applications are endless.
Consider this: a Little Caesars* franchisee’s sweepstakes campaign saw a 62 percent opt-in rate. SIXTY-TWO PERCENT! Ask anyone who does email marketing when the last time they saw that kind of opt-in rate for any particular outreach campaign. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking email, but I can’t help but get excited over the inherent potential of mobile to provide real value for companies and consumers in real time.
*Disclosure: My employer is owned by the same parent company that owns Little Caesars pizza.
Bridging the digital divide
Let’s face it, crowdsourcing can only go so far when such a small percentage of the crowd is even online. Now, if the online crowd is your crowd, good for you. However, most of the world (and a solid percentage of the U.S. population) still has no Internet access, but when they finally do, for the majority it will probably be via mobile technology.
While in Austin for SXSW, I took a walk over to BarCamp Austin to take in a presentation by Erik Hersman about the ingenuity of Africans, and that got me thinking about this issue on a much larger scale. The mobile web has the potential to bridge the digital divide at a much more rapid rate than grandiose plans for infrastructure and connectivity in outlying areas.
For many Africans, keeping phones charged poses a bigger challenge than simply obtaining a phone. The above picture is from the Afrigadget blog where Erik is a contributor (fascinating stuff over there by the way). This shows the set up of a typical village mobile phone kiosk. Why would anyone want to wait for infrastructure in order to access information and tools for communication?
Add to this experience an article in Technology Review magazine I read on my flight home from Austin about innovation in mobile technology. In this article, Kent Lupberger of the World Bank’s Global Information and Communication Techologies department cites the mobile phone as the “most revolutionary device in the last decade for the emerging world”.
According to the article, even China now has more than 50 percent penetration in terms of mobile use.
In addition to providing things like opt-in opportunities for marketers, this also means that the potential exists for providing aid in more meaningful ways, creating a feedback loop for even the most remote populations, providing life-saving or life-empowering information related to education, health care, safety, etc.
¿No habla ingles?
Language still presents a major hurdle for many communicators as our world gets smaller. According to this same article in Technology Review, a translation system developed by Moka, an e-learning company in Florida, offers users in China the ability to have texts automatically translated from Chinese to English and vice versa.
The company promises to unroll a similar service in the United States for English and Spanish speakers.
Other cool mobile stuff
Another cool find at SXSW was Contxt (even Scoble wrote about it). Contxt is a free service that enables users with the ability to create SMS business cards that can be sent to a mobile phone. Give it a try: to receive my contact information, simply text shannonpaul to 50500 or go here to create your own.
What kind of potential do you see for mobile technology in helping us transcend some of the barriers to action and communication? Do you think we’ll be able to keep the dialogue going without resorting to spam?
I tried to focus on the benefits of mobile technology. Did I miss anything? What are some of the pitfalls we’ll likely face as we travel down this path as communicators, consumers, citizens? I hope you found this information helpful or at least thought provoking and I’ll look forward to your feedback.
Photo by juicyrai
If you enjoyed this post, make sure to subscribe for regular updates!