This year’s GSMA Mobile World Congress 2012 brought together last week in Barcelona an industry that has been working during the past year to guess and meet the mobile needs of consumers and businesses.  Over 65,000 attendees and 3,000 journalists were asked ‘How do you redefine mobile?’  This theme was much more than about new handsets or associated technology.  It was about how the industry can continue to embed itself in our daily life.

While handset manufacturers such as Samsung, HTC, Huawei, Nokia and BlackBerry grabbed the headlines at this year’s congress, it was the operating systems and the application of these that grabbed a lot of the discussion.  Mobile commerce was one such subject that was hotly discussed.

Mobile connects people with people.  It connects business with people, opening a host of opportunities for news and media outlets, as well as businesses that rely on direct to consumer sales.  Just look at the new Guardian advert about the Three Little Piggies to see how new is now shaped by the opinions of people on the move.

While Google and it’s Android operating system was everywhere, Apple and it’s non-attendance were the still benchmark for the many handset manufacturers.  Samsung unveiled not just the Note handset, but also a partnership with Visa that would facilitate it’s Near Field Communications (#NFC) capability.  With a NFC-sim in place, Samsung will be providing athletes at the London 2012 Olympic Games with handsets through which they can pay for goods, educating the public about the benefits of contactless mobile payments.

Samsung London Olympics NFC enabled mobile

Athletes will just need to open a pre-installed app and with just the swipe of their phone over a RFID Visa reader they’ll be able to pay for purchases of up to say £20.  Any purchases over a set preset amount will require the user to enter a security PIN number.  Visa hopes to launch this NFC payment service to the public later on in the year, though with a few conditions: you will need a Visa debit or Credit card associated with the service, you mobile operators will need to send you an approved SIM card and your NFC enabled phone will need to be approved by your bank.  Seamless it isn’t, but a step in the right direction it is.

Meanwhile, Japanese Mobile Operator NTT DoCoMo unveiled their own NFC offering, which was more consumer-friendly and has been in use in Japan since 2004.

NTT DoCoMo pioneered mobile payments by ‘encouraging’ Sony to design what is now the NFC FeliCa chips that have become the contactless default payment system in Japanese handsets.  NFCTimes.com reports that today ‘more than 60 million phones in Japan pack the contactless FeliCa chip, which comes from DoCoMo’s joint venture partner Sony Corp. The chips and associated secure memory can support a range of payment, ticketing and other applications.’  The operator makes it’s money by collecting transaction fees every time a subscriber uses the NFC system.

Extending the service beyond payments, NTT DoCoMo unveiled services where NFC could be used across borders and for mobile ticketing through the Boardwalk Mobile Ticketing, which uses NFC on mobile devices to create a seamless way to engage with events that require ticketing and through which event promoters can further push additional content.  In Japan, NTT DoCoMo also provides the subscriber with the opportunity of charging purchases to their monthly bill.

With the continued rise of geo-location marketing pushed by the likes of Foursquare and Facebook, the missing piece in the payment and promotion system is appearing in Asia, where seamless services have produced high consumer sign-up numbers, something that Samsung and Visa need to consider when they roll their own services in western markets

According to Ovum the ‘GSMA estimates that there are now over 100 deployments around the world.’ High-adoption for mobile payment in emerging markets is partly driven by the fact that mobile phone ownership in these markets vastly outnumbers payment card ownerships.  In developed markets, the incentive to use NFC and other mobile payment options need to be established through promotions to the user – discounts and coupons that can be redeemed with ones own handset.  Location services such as Foursquare could add value and increase sales.

Brands today require a mobile strategy as part of the communications activities.  Reaching people wherever they are is going to be central, especially when you consider that at some point within the next 24 months more people will be accessing the web through a mobile device than a desktop.  Views and opinions will be in real-time, offers made when target customers are in location.

Mobile and telecoms have embedded themselves in our daily life.  They are the channel for business and real-time comment and opinion.  They are wire that connects people on social networks.  Mobile is redefining itself, and it will continue to do so.  Develop a mobile strategy and accept that real-time business is already upon us.

George Lucas was right, 'The audience IS listening'

Facebook has brought together an audience of incredible numbers.  The social networking giant is today a community of people that keeps on growing, creating for businesses an opportunity to reach out directly to consumers.  But here lies the question, why are businesses still looking like ‘rabbits in the headlights’ and failing to truly engage with audiences that can help many survive during these hard economic times?

Today, Facebook has over 750 million users worldwide.  For many businesses that figure is a fantasy, after all, are we going to engage with so many?  So let’s narrow this figure down into more manageable and relevant numbers.  In the US there are over 154 million ‘active’ users, Indonesia comes in second with 40 million and a 16 per cent penetration rate, while in the UK there are 30 million users reaching half of the population. Malaysia has over 11 million users accounting for nearly 1 in 2 residents, while Singapore has a very active 2.5 million with 54% of people being on Facebook.

And the figures don’t stop there.  Here are some more, more than have of Facebook users access the network each day, half of which do so through their mobile phones.  And those that access Facebook through a smartphone or other mobile device are ‘twice as active as Facebook compared to non-mobile users.’

For many companies and organisations, these numbers are very 2-dimensional.  The audience is there, but the history and culture of 20 century business dictates that for many they still broadcast to them through a given Facebook Page.

Audience engagement is much more than a Facebook Page and the apps and tabs that these Pages have.  It is about, well, engagement.  It is about listening and delivering.  In business it is about meeting needs.  And to meet business needs you needs to re-invent itself, spending time speaking an engaging with your various audiences.

Many companies are focused on the comfort of your own structure.  Safe in the knowledge of how they have always delivered their business.  But what about your audience?  Have they been happy in how they have received your business?

As Facebook show’s us, people today are connected online.  For many they check their network, their community first thing in the morning.  People seek input, advice and support from their community that they have before they have spent money.  Today, people are happy to share bad experience, which shapes many companies brands and reputations.

While engagement is certainly not as cheap as business thinks it is, it creates a much more personal relationship than brands have ever had with it’s audiences.  It creates the loyalty, the holy-grail of business relationships that many aspire for.

Think about it this way, how do you like being talked at?

Social media sites Facebook and twitter were blamed today by Government and Metropolitan Police spokespeople for fanning the UK #Londonriots and looting over the weekend.  Fingers were pointed at these social networking sites for the fact that they enable people to send out calls for people to gather together.

The disturbances happened after the fatal shooting of Tottenham father of four Mark Duggan who was allegedly killed in a minicab on Thursday by police firearm officers.

Blaming these sites is just placing a distraction for the real reasons for the unlawful behaviour that took place, highlighting a lack of understanding or will to understand of how people use social media today.

In fact, as Partner at Engine group Jonathan Akwue points out in his blog, it wasn’t Facebook or Twitter that fuelled the riots, but most probably BBM – BlackBerry Messenger.  BlackBerry is the phone of choice amongst a young demographic that took part in the riots, primarily because of BBM is virtually free (You just need a BlackBerry data plan) and unlike Facebook and Twitter, which are both open, it’s truly private.

BBM messages are encrypted and run through Research In Motion’s Canadian servers, and issue that has created many problems for the firm in India and the UAE, where they were threatened with being banned unless their encrypted communications were ‘opened-up’.

Emirates247 reported on 26th July that Abu Dhabi Police have warned that ‘spreading malicious rumours and fake news through BlackBerry messenger (BBM) is punishable by law and offenders could by jailed up to three years.’  The question now is if the UK Government is with it’s tarring of social networking and the recent extension of the #phonehacking judicial review going to push for something similar given that BBM is in all sense a private forum that is difficult to listen in on.

Blaming social networks is just a distraction, facilitating a reason for a possible change in policy that could be rushed through without understanding how these communication channels work.  But think about it, why would anybody wanting to do a crime share it on an open network?  Why not use a private channel?  Why can’t lawmakers understand this simple fact?

During the weekend riots Twitter was the channel used to report what was unfolding in Tottenham, Edmonton and Brixton.  A channel that captured in real-time what was organised on the locked-down BBM network.  If you wanted a real-time update you went to Twitter and used relevant search terms.

As Omar said in The Wire, “the game’s out there, and it’s play or get played. That simple.”  And at the moment the authorities are getting played.  Blaming social media confirms the distance that exists between them and the reasons that trigger the unrests.

 

*** UPDATE ***

BlackBerry UK have released the following statement in response to the use of BBM, ‘As in all markets around the world where BlackBerry is available, we cooperate with local telecommunications operators, law enforcement and regulatory officials. Similar to other technology providers in the UK we comply with The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and co-operate fully with the Home Office and UK police forces.’

Facebook is moving into the news business, hoping to capitalise on news outlets latest refocus on social networking.  It’s Edition’s project will see the networking giant face-up to Apple and Google, who are both working on project to monitise our appetite for news in real-time.

Fifteen years ago news outlets opted to make the content that had a cover-price free online, a strategy based trying to get a slice of the then large online advertising pie.  Then, after putting all of it’s eggs in one basket, it faced with a severe decline in advertising revenue, forcing many newsrooms to cut their staff.  Then, after much strategising some outlets opted for paywalls, a decision that to this day still causes plenty of debate in the news industry.  Some outlets, like the The Times, Sunday Times, New York Times and the Financial Times delivered various options – fully restrictive or freemium services.  It all appears to have provided some security for the medium-term.

Enter Facebook, who with over 750 million members has decided to move into the news business with it’s Facebook Editions – an app that allows users to consume news within it’s walls.

News outlets had been working with Apple and it’s Newsstand offering which would update subscribers news subscriptions via an exclusive App.  I wrote a post about this in September 2009 about the ‘Changing And Charging TimesFor News.’ Many outlets have signed-up to Apple’s Newsstand.  Others haven’t, not liking the terms set out – including a 30% fee for Apple.  The Financial Times is a case whereby they have taken their content from the App Store and have developed an HTML5 site that can be accessed through iPhone, iPods and iPads.  Developed by Assanka, the HTML5 app is fluid and smooth and as a subscriber I have to say that it set’s the standard.

Facebook knows that over a third of its 750 million users access the site through mobile devices, and those who access the site on a cell-phone or tablet as active than traditional desktop users.  This explains why news outlets like CNN, The Washington Post and Rupert Murdoch’s The Daily are wanting in on Zuckerberg’s next project.

The fact is that the consumption of news has not diminished, it has most probably risen.  Start-up’s like Flipboard show how we the consumer like our news to be gathered from trusted sources that can verify content, such as journalists, as well as from friends and peers that can deliver unverified news, enabling us to be the first for news.

The speed at which news is consumed is what the PR community is going to have to focus on as outlets compete to deliver quality content.

UK national tabloid The News Of The World (#NOTW) is caught in the eye of a very public storm as revelations allege their involvement in the phone hacking of not just the murdered Milly Dowler, but the parents of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman and victims of the July 7th London bombing.

The esteemed Nicholas Tomalin, said that ‘the only qualities needed for real success in Journalism are ratlike cunning, a plausible manner and a little literary ability.‘ He was not wrong.

It is this cunning that’s got The Guardian’s Nick Davies  the story, as it’s served up insight into the activities that were allegedly common place at the News Of The World.  But let’s not single them out exclusively.  News outlets are in competition with one another and it would be odd to think that they were the only ones guilty.  In fact, In the 2006 ‘What Price Privacy Now?’ report (below) the Information Commission highlighted that 305 journalists had been identified during Operation Motorman as customers driving the illegal trade in confidential personal information.  Have a look at the list and you’ll be surprised by some of the titles that were named and shamed.  The various reports confirm two methods that journalists and private investigators use to get information, including, ‘through corruption, or more usually by some form of deception, generally known as ‘blagging’. Blaggers pretend to be someone they are not in order to wheedle out the information they are seeking.’

What Price Privacy Now Notw

Phone-hacking is really just the tip of the iceberg.  Given that most people do not change the default password on their phone it is pretty easy to intercept voice messages.  But, getting information on addresses, car registration requires deception and/or as the law describes, corruption.

The above report highlights the case of how in November 2006 Stephen and Sharon Anderson of St Ives in Cambridgeshire pleaded guilty to obtaining and selling information unlawfully whilst operating as private investigators.  They used ‘blagging’ techniques to obtain and attempt to obtain personal information about individuals from a number of organisations including Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, British Telecommunications plc and various banks.

So, while our eyes are currently on The News Of The World, the real question is, what about organisations that private investigators get their data from?  How safe is your data – your bank details, phone numbers, your bills and tax information?  And how ready are these businesses for the questions that must be asked?  If you work PR in-house or agency-side are you ready for the reputation of your client or employer being questioned?  And questions about how safe customers data is?  And today, when we work online, how safe our our emails and our personal profiles?

News Of The World’s official line that it was all down to a ‘rogue reporter’ just did not wash from a public relations perspective.  While it might have held back the criticism, it was like putting a finger in the dam.

Some newsrooms are aggressive places with boiler-room like cultures. You have to get the story. You don’t ask questions about the how, you just need to make sure that all the pieces fit together and that your legal team sign it off.  All of course with the safety net of ‘Public Interest.’  But what is the definition of public interest? And why is the very quiet Press Complaint Commission so neutral?  The PCC’s statement was just pointless.

Carter-Ruck Partner Magnus Boyd says, “public interest is always the justification used for such intrusion. It appears the lack of an adequate definition of public interest has allowed many spurious claims to the public interest.”  He says, “At the moment only Ofcom and the PCC offer working definitions of what is in the public interest and both are deliberately vaugue so as to retain sufficient flexibility and applicability.”

“Conversely, however, the lack of precision in the definition of ‘public interest’ allows the concept to be cited on ‘a rather tired and formulaic basis’ in many cases as Mr Justice Eady noted.  What is interesting to the public may not neceassarily be in the public interest but we can no longer afford to seek to define it by ommission or by the adage, ‘you’ll know it when you see it’.” We need to define what the public interest is in a way that the general public can understand and relate to and which will have sufficient flexibilty to adapt to changing circumstances without being all things to all men

Talking about celebrity reporting Boyd goes on to explain, “Ironically, celebrity reporting usually requires the least invasive investigation techniques – there are usually people ready to talk off the record and perpetuate the gossip. What may well emerge from recent events is that hacking and blagging were used far more in the investigation of financial and corporate stories than readers may have realised as well as more general news items.”

Up an until The Guardian revealed that the phone of Milly Dowler had been hacked the story seemed distant from the public.  It was an issue that just affected celebrities, people, as some might claim, that courted the media.  But knowing to what lengths certain media outlets would go to has turned the tide.

A social media campaign by the public has been targeting not just readers of the paper but companies that advertise in the News of the World.  Public revulsion is pushing this gossip paper into a tight corner.  Companies like Ford, Mitsubishi, NPower, Virgin Holidays have cut their advertising from the title.

The Daily Telegraph’s Harry Wallop commented on Twitter, ‘NotW makes c£35m from ads + c£135m from sales. Few weeks of dropped ads won’t hit paper hard. Reader loyalty is what matters.’

The community is using Twitter and Facebook to spread their disgust and it’s having an impact, with subscribers to The Sun and other News International cancelling their subscriptions.

Social media can whip-up a storm and highlight public sentiment in real-time.  Give the community and argument and it will express it’s view.  But let’s remember, they are not the only guilty party and PR’s need to be ready for the questions about data, information and privacy that now need to be asked.

****UPDATE***

The Press Complain’s Commission yesterday released a statement that, well, didn’t say much apart from it being unhappy with the conduct of one of it’s members.

In Press Gazette today, Dominic Ponsford highlights how a Independent Enquiry might (we hope) focus on the role of the PCC.

Labour MP Alun Michael, himself a former journalist, speaking in an emergency debate about phone-hacking in the Commons yesterday, said: “The PCC is well meaning, but frankly it’s a joke, the public deserve better and the journalists deserve better. The PCC clearly has neither the will nor the ability to change things. What we need is an independent body, that is robust, effective, and has the powers to investigate and enforce. That would be a major step forward.