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Social Media Forum

The mobile Internet

Insurers, producers must face new reality

By Tom Wetzel

We all read, or at least hear, about every upgrade of smartphones—the new 4G standard and the latest apps that seem to surface every week. What we don't hear as much about is the corresponding decline of their older mobile brethren and what this portends for producers and companies. Just as our industry grapples with using social media, the concept of the "mobile Internet" will overwhelm those who do not plan for it.

The mobile Internet, which refers to accessing the Internet using a portable, handheld device, is transforming how and where consumers access information on the goods and services they use. The venerable desktop computer won't disappear anytime soon. However, for the first time ever, smart phones are outselling PCs. According to research group IDC, consumer electronics makers shipped 100.9 million smart phones in the last three months of 2010, an 87% jump from a year earlier. PC shipments were weaker than expected, edging up just 3% to 92.1 million.

The mobile revolution is already in full swing, so insurers and producers must also transform how consumers can find them anytime, anywhere—and then provide content they will find valuable and compelling—and keep them coming back. Social networking is, in fact, accelerating the growth of mobile, in information sharing (Twitter), gaming (Zynga), and commerce (Groupon). Social media and mobile are inextricably entwined.

The growth of smartphone use has been, and continues to be, dramatic. Earlier this year, a survey by The Pew Research Center found that while 83% of respondents owned a mobile phone, 42% of the same group owned a smartphone. Last year, a study  by the A.C. Nielsen research company last year found that only 21% of mobile phone owners had a smartphone.

The Pew report also reported that 87% of smartphone owners used their device to access the Web or e-mail at least once a day. One quarter of the sample said they go online on their smartphone more than they do with a desktop or laptop. Lastly, the report indicated that nearly 40% of mobile phone users had smartphones that run the most popular operating systems, including iPhone iOS, BlackBerry, Google Android, Windows Phone 7 or the Palm operating system.

The first quarter of this year was a boon for smartphone manufacturers, particularly Apple and Android-based device makers such as Samsung. In this country, more than half of all phones sold were smartphones and account for 80% of the revenues from phones sold here. Coupled with rapid growth of tablets and I-Pads, smartphones are also driving mobile data usage, which spiked 130% during the first quarter of 2011 vs. the same period in 2010, according to Akamai Technologies, a Massachusetts-based content delivery network and Ericsson, the Swedish telecommunications giant. By contrast, voice is becoming less important on wireless networks.

Akamai's 2011 State of the Internet report also indicated that "online video (30%-40%) is the largest contributor to mobile traffic volume, followed by Web browsing (20%-30%). On tablets and smartphones, online audio, e-mail, software downloads, and social networking traffic are big consumers of 3G data traffic…tablet and smartphone devices usually have frequent and short sessions typically during the whole day, sometimes showing a periodic nature."

What this all means, of course, is that technological advances are pushing demand for mobile-based services. Early-adopter USAA introduced mobile technology in 2008 to allow members to conduct banking, insurance and investment business. Liberty Mutual offers mobile apps for claims, a senior driving game—called "Driver Seat"—and access to its Responsibility Project. Progressive is ramping up its mobile capabilities quickly this year, having just announced upgrades, including the ability to buy policies, a VIN capture feature through its iPhone and soon an Android app that allows customers to get quotes based on a picture of a VIN, and severe weather text alerts. Expect other insurers to jump in soon.

What's next? It is only a matter of time until one can use a smartphone as a credit card, at least for smaller purchases. At the Insurance Marketing & Communications Association's Creative Forum earlier this year, mobile expert Jon Beber, said, "Today, you left the house in the morning with your keys, wallet and cell phone, but in five years or less you will have only your cell phone."

Near field technology (NFC) which allows for simplified transactions, data exchange, and connections with a touch, using QR (quick response) codes, is expected to be included in the next Android version. Nokia's C7 handset already has the capability and Apple will probably follow suit before long. You can also be sure that other features will be added in the next year or two, and will likely include 3D displays, projectors, and temperature, biometric, and proximity sensors.

That's not to say that every insurer and producer must embrace mobile in all its aspects—there are plenty of security and privacy issues yet to be addressed. The first virus designed to disrupt Google's Android operating system was recently reported. With more open WiFi networks and more—and less secure, connectivity options, there is a greater need for antivirus and firewall tools in the mobile space.

However, mobile technology does offer our industry an enormous opportunity to connect with insurance buyers in an immediate, convenient, powerful way. Mobile enables hand-held, portable 24/7 connectivity, the opportunity to influence behavior in real time and gives buyers the ability to access almost anything, anytime, anywhere.

All the more reason to embrace the technology, understand where it is going and how fast it is going, and develop a strategy to use it productively and safely.

The author

Tom Wetzel is president of a full-service, insurance-exclusive marketing communications/public affairs firm with a special practice devoted to helping agents and insurers use social media in a productive, risk-averse way. He can be reached at The firm's Web site is He is also on Facebook at "Social Media Management for Insurance Industry."


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