Posted July 8, 2010 9:50 am by with 8 comments

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Attention all members of the social media industry! Attention all members of the social media industry! It’s time to consider how the REST of the world uses social media in its various forms especially from a mobile phone perspective. I say this only because the chatter amongst social media experts, ninjas, gurus and Maharishi’s seems to lean toward the idea that everyone is accessing social media from mobile devices but reality may be very far from that.

The Pew Research Center’s Pew Internet and American Life Project puts out some great data n its report called Mobile Access 2010 and it seems (as best as I can tell at least) to be free of the influence of someone who is doing PR disguised as research (another popular industry practice that needs to end). Here are a few findings. Please note the last bullet point in particular.

Now, there is a lot more to this study like age specific breakdowns and also the use of cell phones for data applications amongst various ethnic groups which is fascinating. Please check out the report if you would like to learn more (PDF).

Honestly, I couldn’t get my mind off the 10% number because it seemed very low but at the same time seemed very real. At first I thought this can’t be right because everyone is using their mobile phones to access social media. Isn’t that the point? Being able to tell all of your ‘friends’ what you are up to at the moment and the place that you are up to it? If you read only industry media about this phenomenon you would suspect that this kind of thing is widespread and going mass market.

Whoa there big fella! It’s not there yet and likely won’t be for quite some time. As with most everything I have ever seen in the Internet space the hype is usually about 5 years ahead of that nasty thing called reality. We get all lathered up about what is happening even though it is only happening for a very small percentage of people.

This kind of overheating and over hyping is both annoying and dangerous. It’s annoying because it fuels the egos of those who are pushing this kind of irrational exuberance for their own gain (to be a quoted ‘expert’ etc). Secondly, it makes people lose sight of what they need to be doing right now to succeed.

There is no doubt that this kind of activity will be more pervasive moving forward. We all have to remember though that when we attend a conference with thousands of people walking around staring at their iPhones, Android devices or BlackBerrys that we are experience this activity in a bubble. It’s not how most of the world operates yet. It just feels like it because like attracts like. The people that are married to their smartphones and record everything at every moment are a small percentage of the overall population and it may not make sense at this point to be getting all giddy over just how impactful this all is.

Let’s face it, we are some 15 plus years into the commercial Internet era and A LOT of people are just starting to understand search marketing! We chuckle and say “Gee, I can’t believe that there are people that still don’t get search!” Huh? That’s pretty arrogant and actually stupid to say (you can complain that I may have called you stupid but I am first in line in having made that statement about search as well, so we are all in this together). Honestly, Google is still figuring out what is deemed ‘traditional’ search so why should we expect that everyone already has as well. Man, get with it, right? Search is so 2009! The masses haven’t caught up but we keep on running and leaving them further behind. That’s not good policy.

I am glad that there are voices of reason out there like Pew so we can all have a head slap of reality and really help each other to concentrate on things that will help us today to move this economy out of the crapper. Pie in the sky business idealism will not get it done. Believing that the whole world is going completely mobile and will do everything from their mobile devices in even the next few years is silly. Segments of society will adapt and grow faster but where a lot of consumers are and will remain to be will not be part of this revolution.

The truth is that there is a lot more money being held by people who are not part of this revolution than there are those who are. As marketers that should be your focus for today.

Well, thanks for allowing my rant. I would love to hear the opinions of our readers on this subject. Is the use of mobile and social more widespread than this study suggests? Are we stirring up a bunch of industry Kool Aid that is keeping many from making good decisions for their business in today’s reality? Let’s hear it please!

  • MasterShephe

    Wow, I can’t believe that number is true. Well, I mean, I can. But that’s still crazy.

    Though, I have to wonder how they gathered that data. For example, I use my super-fancy smartphone to post to Twitter via the Seesimic app.

    So I checked to see if the Tweet was recorded as “mobile” or “seesmic” or “seesmic mobile” or something like that.

    Sure enough, my posts are labeled as “posted via Seesmic”. Which means that it very well could’ve been posted from a desktop application OR a mobile device.

    So does the survey just disregard any posts from 3rd party apps because their origin is indefinable? Or does it just guess or make a smart-estimation regarding how many “via Seesmic” posts were actually posted from a mobile device (e.g. If 90% of Seesmic users only downloaded the mobile app, do they assume that 90% of “via Seesmic” posts are posted from mobile?)

    I’m just wondering.

    I really didn’t look too deeply to find out if the survey was self-reporting or if it was contrived by data-driven analytics or something else that’s equally fancy-sounding. But that would certainly be a key factor in ascertaining the relevancy of their study, eh?

    • Good points!

      The methodology section of the report doesn’t clear that up.

      This is why we all need to be looking at any data with an extremely critical eye. if we are to make business decisions based on something that might be less than accurate then the business decision will follow suit.

      Thanks for checking in!

  • Frank, you make a good point, but don’t forget smartphone penetration is still in the neighborhood of 20% –

    The numbers from Pew are actually what I would expect given the current smartphone penetration level.

    Although early adopters and digital marketing “experts” will continue to interact more with their mobile devices than the masses, there is good reason to believe the masses will increasing access the Internet via mobile. This is the first time in my 16 year digital career that I believe the hype about mobile will become reality.

    • Tom – Very true. Smartphone penetration though faces some serious barriers when getting to the masses because of cost of the devices themselves and the data plans associated with them. Doesn’t mean that adoption will stop by any means but I am just asking for some reasonable excitement rather than the full out “Now is the time!” approach that many proclaim.

      As noted in the post, I think a lot of that “proclaiming” is just a form of self promotion but as Mr. Barnum noted many years ago “There’s a sucker born every minute”. The more who buy into this “It’s happening now, get on it or miss it” approach will just create more disappointment when the hype falls short of the expectation even amidst great growth.

      Remember how people used to think the sky was falling when Google’s growth fell under 40%? We want things to fly about at breakneck speeds but we are never truly prepared to handle breakneck speeds.

      I agree it is coming. No denying it. It’s just where some claim it is today.

  • With the advent of technologies like foursquare, these numbers have increased.

  • You Make crystal clear Points Thanks