Remember life without smartphones? A trivial argument lasted through all of dinner. “What movie won Best Picture in 2005?” “Brokeback Mountain, obviously.” “Wait … didn’t that Stuart Hoffman movie take the Oscar?”
Now, disagreements are resolved before the bread is served: “Actually guys, I just looked it up … it was some movie called Crash.”
Mobile Is Here to Stay
The world isn’t changing— it’s changed. Professionally, socially, and academically, we rely on mobile to connect with the world around us. What used to require 45 minutes and a library card takes 7 seconds and an iPhone.
Our lives are different. They aren’t necessarily less stressful or more rewarding, but they are definitely more efficient. We have access to an endless amount of information. We buy goods and engage services in a remarkably more convenient way. The mobile world is simply easier to navigate.
Personally, my reliance on mobile is obvious. I came to San Francisco with an old smartphone that I used to read the news and play music. Now I use my phone like a superhero’s utility belt. Hungry for dinner? Four taps on a touchscreen and it’s at my door. Heading to the airport? The car is waiting before I get downstairs. It’s a tool for nearly every aspect of daily life.
Initially, I thought I was just being lazy. However, I’ve come to realize that it’s not laziness that’s driven my behavior, but pragmatism. I use apps to do things I could never do before or could do in a less convenient way. Rather than rushing to the corner to wave down a passing cab, or spending 10 minutes on the phone with an indifferent operator, I can virtually watch my Uber approach from the comfort of my couch. With every new app I use, my phone is more useful. The more daily activities it replaces, the more reliant I become.
The convenience of mobile has infiltrated our lives, and it’s not going anywhere.
Mobile is about Engagement
We see the word mobile everywhere these days. As a broad market term: “If I had money, I’d invest everything in mobile.” Or as an adjective for something specific, “My mobile carrier sent me a new mobile phone that’s designed for mobile payments.”
For colleges and universities managing massive retail environments and dealing with expanded security restrictions, mobile commerce is an especially hot topic
Today, campuses tend to approach mobile commerce from two distinct angles: the ability for their students to make payments from a mobile device and their operators’ ability to accept them.
Although both actions involve separate hardware and processes, together they are an interconnected system. They are two sides of the same coin. The core benefit doesn’t come from replacing a single action with another—swiping a card versus tapping a phone. The value is in mobile’s ability to create a more convenient experience—a direct connection between the user and the operational system or process. In the end, the goal is mobile engagement. It’s about how the mobile experience interlaces itself into the real world.
Currently, campus administrators are using mobile to enhance engagement throughout many areas of auxiliary and student life. Transit apps allow students to see exactly when the next bus is coming, reducing the amount of time idly waiting at the shelter. For commuters, feeding the parking meter is much easier when a mobile app can replace a bag full of quarters.
When the process is more convenient, more people will do it and they’ll do it more often. Connecting campus programs and services to the student’s phone isn’t a concession to accommodate a lazy generation—it’s a strategy to improve the experience and increase engagement.
The Solution Is Sophisticated but Success Is Simple
One of the great things about mobile is that it’s easy to understand success: Do people use the service or not?
It’s easy to try a new app, but few are used routinely. The vast majority of us won’t use a smartphone to order flowers if it’s more reliable and convenient to make a phone call or order online. We might try it a few times, but we quickly gravitate to what works best.
User behavior paints a clear picture. If download and usage rates among the target audience are high, then the service offers an appealing value proposition. If the mobile experience drives sustained engagement, then it’s clearly useful.
Evaluating success is easy, but defining what drives success can be difficult. It doesn’t have to be. For colleges and universities that are considering implementing mobile to increase engagement, there are three key factors to consider:
- The frequency of the use case. Before developing a new app for a campus, the first consideration is how often will it be used. Who is the addressable market? In what circumstances could they use the service? For example, an app used to assist students with scheduling classes is relevant to the entire student population—but only two or three times a year. Although the eligible audience is large, the behavior is infrequent, leaving potential users with a much smaller incentive to download the app and adopt a new process.
- The ease of the experience. When it comes to mobile adoption, it’s important to understand that users can be unforgiving. The first time the student uses an app, they’ll develop a perception for how well it works. Regardless of the relevance, if that experience isn’t positive, it can be very difficult to get them to try it again. How long does it take for new screens to load? Is the app flow intuitive? Does the app require users to log in for each use or are credentials stored securely? These considerations can seem minor, but they define the mobile experience.
- The value of the solution. Creating a positive mobile experience for a frequent activity does not ensure success. To produce high adoption rates and sustained engagement, the app must enhance an existing process or solve a need. A great example of this is mobile ordering. If a student has a 15-minute break between two classes, it may be impossible for them to walk to the coffee shop, stand in line to place their order, and wait until it’s ready. A mobile ordering app can allow the student to place their order as one class ends, so it’s ready by the time they arrive at the shop. The app allowed the student to do something they couldn’t do before
For people to change their behavior and adopt a new process, the added benefit must be compelling. For campus administrators, the goal isn’t to implement mobile technology for technology’s sake. The goal is to use mobile as a tool to solve real-world problems throughout campus. When implemented effectively, mobile isn’t a distraction, it’s a bridge connecting campus programs and initiatives with the students they are designed to service. For students, it’s an expectation. For colleges and universities, it’s a new reality.