Is the Olympics effect on Social Media usage a spike or the start of a trend?

It’s difficult not to know the Olympics is being hosted by London this year. It’s on the TV, it’s on the radio, it’s in the news, and it’s the talk of offices and coffee shops all over the country… and most interestingly it is also the first Olympics year in which Social Media has been playing a huge part in those conversations.

There were fears before the Olympics that the infrastructure may not be able to cope with the influx of twitter use, photo texts, mobile TV, & Facebook status updates etc which were expected during the opening ceremony and the events in general. Most of these concerns seem unfounded but the fact that Twitter has repeatedly hit the news since the start of the Olympics, including for impacting the ability of broadcasters to get accurate information on the cycling road race and for the abusive messages sent to Tom Daley, does demonstrate that the use of this particular type of Social Media is now an integral part of the Olympics 2012.

I have friends who are lucky enough to have obtained tickets for Olympic events who are posting photos and results to Facebook, I am following numerous Twitter feeds of athletes, reporters and broadcasting organisations & am enjoying participating in sharing results and supporting and discussing the various events. For someone such as myself who has not managed to get tickets, and who really wanted them, it has helped to make me feel involved and helped to bring to the event to life. Interestingly I am also seeing increasing involvement from less sporty friends and colleagues who would not normally be interested in the Olympics but who are finding themselves drawn in to the excitement and able to follow the sports better due to the increased information available at our fingertips.

I am sure there will be numerous stats available around usage of various media during the Olympics, and I very much hope that the many companies using social media as a marketing tool linked to the Olympics are measuring it’s success. It will be really interesting to look into these and see how the usage is split across the various media, and whether conversations and engagement were up as well as broadcasting of messages. However I think even at this early stage we can say it’s been a big impact.

For me though, the big question we can’t answer yet is: Is any increase in the use of Social Media resulting from the Olympics likely to be the start of a more general increase in usage – or is this just a large spike and the normal trends will resume in a few weeks time. What do you think?

Technology and web access has never before been so much on the move….

Anyone who uses trains or planes to get from A to B wouldn’t be surprised to learn of the increasing use of mobile platforms to access content online. Never before have you seen so many people sitting in close proximity staring at so many different types of screen: mobile phones, web phones, laptops, tablets, e-books… the list seems endless.

It doesn’t seem to be that long ago that when you talked about your organisation being ‘mobile ready’ you were referring to the fact that you had a website optimised for mobile phones (a .mobi intead of a but in today’s increasingly fast changing world that is no longer really enough – and I would suggest its not necessarily a wise investment either.

If you refer to mobile usage now you need to think of mobile in its truest sense of the word: people on the move. People on the move have a different set of needs to people sat at a desktop and we shouldn’t think of the term mobile as being a device, more that mobile is a circumstance. For example someone could be on a large screen laptop with free wi-fi in a coffee shop and intend to spend the morning there (I’ve done it myself often enough) – would they be considered to be a mobile user? And increasingly it seems we are also using our phones or laptops in the home to tweet, read or work, whilst sat in front of the other big media device of the century: the TV. In fact I’m doing so now.

For me, if you are supporting the needs of mobile users you should be thinking about the reason they are accessing the web in the first place, and the various constraints that they may be encountering. For example, if someone is ‘on the move’ then they may have bandwidth issues, limited time, restricted screen size, or be in a crowded place. All of these factors will influence the users behavior when interacting with your site. If your organisation is a shop then your ‘mobile’ users could be looking for a map, directions or contact details to help them find you. If you are offering advice then is it accessible in a way that can be easily navigated to and read in bite size chunks. If your users are customers who need to access account details then what are the details they will really need when they are mobile, and how can they access them?

None of these concepts require specialist technology to support the users needs, it is all about clever information architecture – where you put information on your site and how your users navigate to it – and ensuring that the user journey works for all types of users.

It can also be argued that with a new mobile gadget being released every few months, is it realistic to redesign your site for each and every device? With this in mind accessible and user focussed web design and best practice has never been so important.

I’m not saying that sites built for a specific device with a specialist technology don’t have a place – in fact if your audience is only using one method to access your information then it makes total sense to optimise it for that browser or device… and if you are creating a short shelf life pieces of functionality then there may be some really great cost or experiential reasons for developing it in a specific way.

Never the less if you are looking for ways to reach your mobile audience I would argue that if you consider your core user needs, and lay out your website in the most appropriate way for these needs, and if you use technology that works across all devices, then you will reap the returns of having a site that people can use from anywhere.