It’s Personal: The Smartphone’s Influence on Transportation Communications

iPhone5More evidence was released this week suggesting that the days of sitting-at-a-desk, full-monitor web site experiences are waning.

The Pew Internet and American Life Project published its latest research that shows roughly 63% of American cell phone users access the internet with their cellphones. That translates to more than half of all American adults. And of those who access the internet via cell phones, more than a third say it is the primary way in which those cellphone owners access the internet.

Perhaps the next round of questions should ask why isn’t everyone accessing the internet through their cellphones?

The timing of Pew research is perfect, with the breathless launch of the new iPhone 5s and 5c devices — and their new iOS7 — starting this week. Smartphones are the new standard “telephone” device, but even more they have become personal expressions of our independence and mobility — literally extensions of our personality.

An interesting story in USA Today this week asked, “Is the Smartphone Market Fragmented?” The writer makes the case that consumers have so many choices that the market place is fracturing as device manufacturers focus on newly identified specialty markets, for instance better cameras for those who value photography over all else. But he goes on to say, “One-size-fits-all makes for an exciting narrative, but the reality is that smartphones are deeply personal devices. They follow us everywhere, and have the potential to be useful in many different situations. Maybe we should expect some differences in personality.”

Indeed, smartphones seemingly more than ever are emphasizing the “personal” in the personal communications.

So what does that mean for the transportation communicator? There are probably three ideas that stand out, and a million more that follow these.

1. Our sense of online “space” must change as quickly as possible. Candidly, our entire industry needs to grapple with how we share information that for the last decade has just been “thrown” up on the agency website. Different smartphones and tablet devices view the standard websites differently. Those who are not carefully viewing their online properties through this changing lens will find their outreach program lacking.

2. The customer “experience” is uniquely different for smartphone users. Just ask the hospitality industry — airlines in particular — about what smartphones have done for consumers. Bad service? Rude flight attendant? The complaints land on Twitter faster than you can say, “6 second Vine video.” Transportation agencies must begin to grapple with this sense of timelessness. Customers — your pedestrians, drivers, cyclists and riders — increasingly expect instantaneous responses, regardless of the time or day.

3. What we know today may not be true tomorrow. This is a fluid time with new technologies and habits evolving almost in real-time. Our best strategies for engagement now might be obsolete next year. Or not. That is why your communication program should be experimenting with new tools and techniques, even on a very small level, to ensure you are not left behind. After all, this is your brand and your agency’s reputation – its future funding outlook – that is at stake.

The evolution of smartphones as the ultimate extension of our personalities leaves those of us in transportation communications with a very real reality. The customer will not longer expect to communicate with a bureaucracy. Rather, the person with the smartphone will expect to communicate with your organization as a person.

Transportation is no longer run by bureaucracy. Instead, transportation agencies are an extension of the individual’s personal information network.

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About Lloyd Brown

I am the director of communications for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. I enjoy running marathons and triathlons, playing guitar and spending time with family. My professional interest is in how social media and new technology shapes the communication relationship between government and the general public. I have a Master’s degree in Communications and Leadership from Gonzaga University in Spokane and a bachelor’s degree in Communications from Washington State University.
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2 Responses to It’s Personal: The Smartphone’s Influence on Transportation Communications

  1. Pingback: Cell Phones and Transportation | workzoneitsblog

  2. Hi Lloyd,

    Thanks for your insights here. I just returned to the transportation industry after a two year hiatus in university fundraising. I kept riding transit throughout that period, and have observed how the smartphone and ever sophisticated feature (dumb) phones have changed expectations and experiences.

    Customers increasingly rightfully expect that they can access self-service options. They want to fulfill tasks and access information via applications and mobile-responsive websites. It’s not realistic or appealing to call in for information or to make complaints by phone or via email on a mobile device (I know people who wrote long epic emails on their Blackberries but not more than 140 character tweets on their touch-screen devices). And you’re right, they will document everything on their cameras.It’s an exciting time to be a transportation communicator, in my opinion!

    Sirinya

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