This guest post is by Alexandra Carroll, director of research firm Summus, Limited.
For years, companies have chased and measured “stickiness” — the amount of time spent on a website — as the holy grail of brand engagement. But what if stickiness doesn’t matter anymore? What if the amount of time users spend with a brand is shrinking? Does that mean the brand is faltering? Not necessarily.
The rise of smartphones has changed consumers’ interaction with companies in ways that might have traditional Internet marketers worried. Even if a company has a mobile website or, better yet, a mobile application, smartphone-usage patterns are different from those of laptops or desktops. While Nielsen research suggests that smartphone users spend almost an hour each day “actively interacting with the web and apps on their phone,” Summus research helps to further contextualize that data.
Our study of smartphone users reveals that they are growing accustomed to frequent, short intervals on their devices. Almost half of smartphone owners reported using their device in intervals of five minutes or less at least 10 times a day. So while they might be spending an hour actively engaged, it is not a solid hour or even two half-hour sessions. It is more likely 12 five-minute sessions scattered throughout the day. Much of this time is spent on social media apps such as Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare, which allow users to quickly update their friends and followers on their activities and locations. Two-thirds of smartphone users use their device for social networking — 65% of Apple iPhone and 80% of Google Android users social-network on their phone. As Android continues to gain market share, this trend is sure to continue.
The implications of this are substantial, because it means companies must develop mobile interactions that can happen quickly and frequently. Users are unlikely to wait a minute for content to load, and if repeat visits do not yield new information or experiences, users will probably abandon the app or site for more dynamic ones. Call it technologically induced ADD if you will, but mobile-computing devices have made us impatient and hungry for information, entertainment or something to stave off boredom. This puts pressure on companies to provide the quick fix we want. As companies rely more heavily on social media platforms to connect with their customers, these usage patterns should guide their development efforts.
In addition, companies will have to adjust their expectations as well as their measurements. For instance, perhaps the measurement is not minutes per day but visits per day, no matter how short. Based on anecdotal evidence, Facebook has a highly engaging brand, and its mobile app allows users to scan status updates in less than a minute. In fact, there are plenty of Facebook users who prefer the mobile interface because it eliminates many of the distractions and superfluous features of the website. It is easy to get on, take a quick peek and be on to the next thing. Facebook is expanding its brand on these short, frequent interactions. Stickiness has become more about frequency than duration, and the most agile brands have learned to adapt to this mobile reality.
If you are interested in more metrics on how behavior changes with mobile usage, check out Summus, Limited’s white paper “From Apps to Maps: Smartphone Usage By Adoption Wave” on the company’s website.