Massimo enjoys Wine Tasting at iOS bootcamp, photo by Michiel Berger

Sometimes it is important to dig deeper into how things work.  As children we disassemble things or dissect them for better understanding of what we are really dealing with.  Last week I chose to immerse myself in such an experience provided by the Big Nerd Ranch’s Europe campus at Kloster Eberbach.  Okay, so the name speaks for itself, and the class was iOS programming (iPhone/iPad Apps). Having become a true adopter of both devices, my curiosity got the best of me. I re-discovered my inner geek, and renewed my respect for programming, after 15 years of strategy.

You may wonder what this has to do with social strategy.  A lot, is my answer, and here is why.  Social has to do with people, how they communicate, the tools they use, what results from their interaction, and impact from engagement. Quite rapidly the device of choice for communication is becoming the mobile handset.  Executives who were previously computer shy are now carrying around tablets and entering the world of electronic communication that way.  We teach using these devices as tools for sharing, for exploring, for deepening knowledge and for innovating.  It is important to understand what it takes to make these tools effective and how. Understanding the opportunities they present and barriers to entry from both creation and adoption of these tools is critical for strategic usage. Who are we trying to reach, how do they use the tools and what can we expect in the future are all critical questions to ask.

The capabilities of these tools are very exciting. Many things that before were challenges now are simplified and friendly to the computer lover and computer averse alike. Being a teacher at heart I must say the prospect of using devices like the iPad makes me enthusiastic for the future. I had the same feeling back in the mid-90’s when working with the Virtual High School and seeing the opportunity for global collaboration through the Internet. Yet, then we were challenged by access to computers for schools, even in developed countries.

I am very aware of barriers that this evolution creates.  Apps designed as communications whether for customer service, team building or partner engagement, the requirement for entry is access to a smart phone, in most cases.  Like early mainstream social media tools, there is a heavy balance on Apps for their own sake and some task simplifiers (electronic boarding passes, ability to customize pizza and then submit orders,…).  Strategically, buy in of App development requires ROI rationalization for reaching a portion of the audience intended. iPhone, Android or Windows7 use by audience may be sufficient, otherwise they must be prepared to provide alternatives.  

Yes, smart phones are on the rise and futurists talk of $10 iPhones in 2020. But certainly there are still a large population of business professionals using Symbian (Blackberry) devices and professionals and non-professionals alike using “simple” mobiles which are limited to a numeric keyboard. Not to mention the social society issue.  Consider the vast population to whom these smart phone devices are inaccessible due to their cost.   Are we creating a wider gap of the rich get richer and poor get poorer, until they get access too?

Okay, so I will get off my “half empty” soapbox. Are Apps an important element of social strategy? My take is Absolutely when Apps fit strategically with who you are communicating with. They can simplify and add value to your interaction with stakeholders. Caution to note, make sure they are aligned with your vision. As with any social tools, they have enormous potential, and are constantly evolving. Simple, functional and fun Apps can add value when aligned well. For complex functionality, unless new media tools/App creation is your business, let others do the new iterations, license it and don’t recreate the wheel. Apps for smart phones, especially iPhones (okay so that is a personal bias) have an amazingly dynamic future that we have to look forward to. I hope they spread faster than predicted and I look forward to seeing where they go. What is your take?