If 2011 was the year smart mobile went truly mainstream, establishing smartphones and tablets as the screens of choice for even ‘regular’ consumers and fuelling unprecedented demand for data, then 2012 has set the stage for widespread, truly ‘mobile-first’ commerce, entertainment and social interaction, raising the curtain on a new era of ‘superphones’, multi-screen content, tablet-driven video, 4G and more.

If you’re in the business of communications, what does this mean for what you do and how you do it, and what new avenues does the mobile channel present?

The ‘for mobile’ mindset

Smartphones, apps and the mobile web have been a big factor in accelerating the news cycle even further – think breaking news via twitter or live reporting with online copy and quality images from pretty much anywhere with a decent connection or wi-fi. A major factor at play here is that mobile is a huge driver of social media and social news production. In fact social media is the single largest driver of mobile data traffic growth.

This compels communications professionals to put ease of mobile-based consumption (and the facilitation of content creation on the hoof) at the front of their minds in everything they do – whether this is the kind of content we produce (length, format etc..), or how we socialise and engage around it.

Some of this is about common-sense changes - like optimised headlines for emails on smaller screens (think 60 characters or less), watching file sizes, using link shorteners, avoiding stupid attachments, providing links to supporting content via mobile-friendly sites, losing needless embedded graphics and so forth.

We also need to drive all of our stories through complementary social channels, and watch and respond to our most influential tweeters more religiously than ever - whenever, and wherever we are – as well as ensure that our clients’ sites and outputs are mobile-friendly across a range of key devices and mobile platforms.

Cracking old chestnuts in new ways

With a bit of imagination, clever use of free mobile tools and resources, or a small budget, we can easily apply new mobile tech to help do ‘old PR stuff’ like launches, events, media trips in new  and better ways.

For example, how about setting up a free mobile news aggregation tool for clients or internal comms stakeholders that presents the most important breaking competitor news direct to mobile? Or developing a basic, searchable app for your comms team and clients that packages up key media contact information? Or setting up mobile cloud-based sharing of key comms content and resources?

At events or shows, wouldn’t it be valuable to be able to draw on an interactive map identifying the location of networking events and ‘hot ticket’ parties? Or how about experimenting with new augmented reality technology like Aurasma or near-field communications stickers to provide a really interactive experience at product review events, showcases and launches?

Understand your audience

As the PR and comms discipline pushes further into digital marketing, mobile opens up new opportunities to complement existing digital and social campaigns. The key to success here is to start with a really solid understanding of the end consumer, their specific mobile capabilities and their drivers for mobile engagement.These vary considerably by age, sector, location and so forth.

What contexts and locations see your consumers commonly reaching for the mobile screen, and in order to fulfil what intentions (mobile activity tends to be more focussed in terms of intent than tablet or PC behaviour does). What devices do they commonly use, and how do they combine them? Mobile is highly complementary to wider digital life – think checking out product reviews in-store, and then buying online on your laptop.

Which apps and social platforms do they prefer? And what do they most want out of mobile engagement with brands in your sector? And in turn, how does your client’s mobile presence shape up versus the competition? In particular, consumer clients in leisure, retail and travel really need to grapple with these questions.

These questions could lead you to work on effective ways to improve your web presence across multiple new mobile platforms, or to building custom apps,  or integrating a mobile path into broader digital campaigns.

A mobile state of mind

The pace of change in the mobile industry means that everyone needs to keep an eye on the mobile market. There’s probably no faster-paced industry out there – and the direct result is that mobile is changing consumer behaviour and expectation profoundly, at breakneck speed. And behaviours and expectations won’t stand still – they will continue to change, and need to be understood. 

All of this comes with an inescapable need to recalibrate the way we think about our jobs as comms folk – the when, where and how of what we do. We are inevitably less able to ‘turn off’ from our discipline than before, but at the same time we’re a lot more free, autonomous and empowered to make things happen creatively, and to engage more directly than we’ve ever been before.

Yes, we need to cover more ground, for longer, and this requires flexibility, discipline, and a degree of tech savvy – but the rewards are huge, and right now, there for the taking.

Hugo Brailsford is MD at Next Fifteen mobile agency Animo.