April 28, 2014 debbie.m

Mobile Use Surges, Smartphones Lead Charge

Across the U.S. and on college campuses, mobile use is exploding. Mobile is no longer the future — it is very much front and center. Now, new research offers some fresh ideas on which devices mobile users favor and what content they are seeking. This is valuable information for higher education web and IT staff.

College students, quite simply, can’t live without their smartphones. An overwhelming 89% of college students own smartphones, according to a new report from Ball State University.  And the ownership has grown quickly. In 2009, about half of college students owned smartphones. The vast majority, 92%, use their phones to access social media, up from 49% four years ago. In addition, in 2014, 74% of college students used their smartphones daily to browse the Internet. Watching video on smartphones has become increasingly popular, with 82% of students reporting using their phones for video in 2014, compared to just 24% in 2009.

These figures offer a few lessons for higher education:

  • If today’s college students are such heavy smartphones users, just imagine the possibilities with US high schoolers, who are even more mobile-savvy. These are the prospective students that your school is marketing itself to. It is imperative that college websites be mobile-friendly. If you’re website is responsive, continue to develop the content and respond to mobile use. If you’re still relying on your desktop site, develop a mobile-friendly alternative immediately!
  • Social media use on mobile is surging. Be sure your school is active on the popular social media sites, including networks that are frequented by mobile users, including Twitter, Instagram, Vine and Pinterest.  Update frequently and offer varied content. Images of students, campus life and athletics always get traction.
  • Develop rich video content. Video is an excellent way to showcase your student life, including events and athletics. Versions of these videos can be posted across a host of social media (Facebook, Vine, Instagram, YouTube) and that greatly increases your school’s exposure.

Interestingly, the Ball State research shows that college students are not adopting tablets at the same clip as smartphones. Only about a third of college students reported owning tablets, down slightly from 2012. The study said students reported using tablets for entertainment purposes, more than academics. (The challenges of touchscreen keyboards are a likely culprit for this.) Instead of tablets for schoolwork, the study finds students prefer to use a combination of laptops and smartphones for their work and communications.

These snapshots of college students’ mobile habits reflect larger trends among US media consumers. According to new data from eMarketer, US adults 18+ will spend an average 2 hours, 51 minutes each day using mobile devices, up from 2 hours, 19 minuteseach day last year and just 24 minutes per day in 2010. Overall digital usage is on the rise as well, accounting for an average 5 hours, 46 minutes per day in 2014. (That includes mobile and desktop usage.) Digital is now more popular than TV, with television accounting for an average 4 hours, 28 minutes per day in 2014.

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So what are mobile phone users doing during all those hours spent on their smartphones and tablets? Social media is one of the most popular activities. This year, more than half of social media activity will be conducted on mobile devices, according to the eMarketer research

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