Facebook is now the barometer for mobile

Over half of Facebook’s traffic already comes from mobile devices and now nearly a third of its revenues do too. The social network seems more and more like the best indicator of wider trends in mobile use.


Each new year is heralded with a new claim to the title ‘The year of mobile’, but to my mind it was 2012 and the reason was Facebook. For the same reason, 2013 is the year of mobile advertising.

Reports last summer that 50 per cent of Facebook use was happening on mobile screens were a fairly strong indicator that mobile browsing and app use is now mainstream, and that consumers have no innate aversion to small screens. And its newly released financial data showing 30 per cent of sales coming from mobile ads ought to give the mobile advertising industry some cause for hope, despite current scepticism from marketers about their effectiveness.

It shouldn’t be much of a surprise to most of us that mobiles are now becoming ubiquitous for activities that until recently were the domain of the desktop computer. Almost 80 per cent of 18- to 44-year-olds check their phones within 15 minutes of waking up each day, and for 62 per cent it’s the first thing they reach for, according to a recent US report by IDC Research.

But while Facebook’s mobile future seems healthy, it shouldn’t be assumed that creating a successful mobile app or a lucrative mobile advertising strategy is a slam dunk for everybody.

The joke used to be that 3G stood for the only three things people were interested in consuming on mobiles – games, gambling and girls. While you’d be a fool to suggest that’s still true, there are still big hurdles to be overcome to make the smartphone or tablet a useful device for anyone in any situation, and some industries are having a better time of it than others.

Entering transactional data and filling in complex forms are still highly problematic things to attempt on a small screen. And that’s purely from a convenience point of view that ignores consumers’ lingering privacy doubts – whether they’re based on understandable caution or a lack of understanding.

And mobile advertising still has some way to go too, despite anecdotal evidence that it’s gaining more acceptance from marketers in 2013. Most companies need to put more thought into how to make use of the limited advertising space the mobile screen offers – without it seeming that their brands are an interruption, or worse still, some kind of scam.

Mobile hasn’t erased that stigma just yet.

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