Well, this is the obligatory time for reflections on the past year and predictions for the next. I’ll try to minimize that here and just share my thoughts on two topics that I’ll be particularly focused on in the coming year – social media and mobile – or more specifically, how best to leverage both for business-to-business and business-to-consumer engagement. Let’s start with mobile…

The explosive growth of mobile access to online content is certainly not news to anyone at this point. According to Nielson’s State of the Media: The Mobile Media Report Q3 2011, the majority of 25-34 and 18-24 year olds now own smartphones (64% and 53% respectively). The latest iteration of the iPad continues to sell very well and although most other tablet makers have not been able to make much of a dent in the iPad’s market share, Amazon’s Kindle Fire does seem to be a hit. The fact that the Kindle Fire is price at $199 also makes it affordable to a much wider range of consumers. So, bottom line, I expect that a lot more access to websites, and online content in general, this coming year will be through smartphones or tablets of varying shapes, sizes and capabilities.

The challenge for those of us focused on digital marketing and developing online presences is optimizing the user experience for various devices. Fortunately we have a number of tools available to us that make it easier, from platform-native mobile apps to responsive web design (RWD) for websites and web applications. Mobile apps are nothing new, but RWD is a technique that has significantly grown in prominence this past year, and will continue to do so in 2012. The jury is still out on whether RWD will be the ultimate long-term solution to optimizing a web experience across devices, but I think it’s by far the best option currently available. For those not familiar with RWD, it’s a web development technique that enables your site or application to adapt to the screen resolution and features (e.g. touch screen vs. keyboard) of the device on which it’s accessed. For more information on RWD, check out Ethan Marcotte’s book: Responsive Web Design. For a live example, here’s a RWD site we recently launched – Johns Hopkins University’s Office of Facilities Management.

Beyond technology and techniques, the bigger challenge we see is that many organizations are slow to adopt these capabilities to engage with customers, partners or employees – potentially losing out on a competitive advantage. I work quite a bit with clients in Higher Education. More than half of their primary “clients” – the 18-24 crowd, have smartphones and actively use them. But many colleges and universities lack a mobile optimized online experience for external audiences (prospective students, alumni, etc.), and even more lack a mobile-optimized online experience for internal audiences (current students, faculty, staff, etc.). Certainly there’s cost and time involved in creating that experience, but as online access moves more to mobile, the laggards will be at a disadvantage to those institutions that are able to effectively evolve with this shift in the market.

I don’t mean to sound like I’m picking on higher education, it’s just one industry example and there are certainly plenty of colleges and universities doing very innovative things in the mobile space. In general, many industries are behind the curve on mobile. Seems like almost every restaurant website I visit is built with Adobe Flash, making it largely unusable on most mobile devices. Even Adobe gave up a few months ago and pulled the plug on further Flash development for mobile.

The news isn’t all bad. Some organizations are very focused on leveraging the value of mobile technology to enhance their business results. For example, one of our clients, a global retailer, is launching an initiative to push content and business analytics directly to store managers’ mobile devices. The goal is to maximize the amount of time managers spend on the sales floor interacting with employees and customers, while still giving them access to the information they need to do their work. This model is an example of my focus for this coming year, to help our clients take advantage of mobile technologies to gain that all important competitive advantage in an evolving online marketplace.