Driving Mobile Activism Adoption

Justin Adams

Justin Adams

By Justin Adams, Erb MBA/MS student, class of 2011.

How can social entrepreneurs drive the adoption of their mobile activism tools? Participants in Ashoka’s Social Entrepreneurship Twitter chat identified several key themes. Broadly speaking, the key drivers of adoption fall into three categories: design, distribution and context.

Product Design
All forms of entrepreneurship depend on finding an unmet need and successfully satisfying it. @metameerkat suggested that involving beneficiaries in the design process will help to increase subsequent adoption. I found that to be true when I designed a web application for Baxter Healthcare. By getting out into the field and talking directly to hemophilia patients, their caregivers, and their healthcare providers, I discovered that the patients and caregivers wanted an easy way to enter repetitive treatment information, while doctors wanted reliable diagnostic data. Fortunately, our development team was able to create a solution that met both needs and led to increased customer satisfaction.

On the theme of “know your audience”, @mobileactive said that providing “locally relevant content” is important for adoption. With more and more mobile devices incorporating GPS, location awareness is a powerful driver of value. The same tools also provide an opportunity to turn the local into the personal.

What do you carry? Literally, what is in your pockets right now?

If you’re like me, you pulled out your keys, your money, and your cell phone. According to research by Nokia, 60% of men carry their mobile phone in their pants pockets and 61% of women carry their mobile phone in a hand bag. The unique power of mobile technology is that it’s intimately personal, connected to our identity, as important as the keys that unlock our homes and the money we use to buy our next meal. Even amidst the recession, sales of smartphones continue to grow at double digit rates. “The notion of being connected,” says Best Buy’s CEO Brian Dunn in this video, “has moved from discretionary to more a utility. It’s a necessity.”

Social entrepreneurship that deals in personally relevant content is much more likely to gain traction. In fact, one of the most exciting examples of mobile activism discussed on the chat hits on exactly this theme. The Extraordinaries provides micro-volunteer opportunities to mobile phone users. User adoption is still to be determined, but people behind The Extraordinaries have already racked up more than $300,000 in seed funding.

That leads to the third important aspect of product design – value. As Ashoka’s @RyanRic argued, mobile activism has to deliver immediate value to users, and not just a vague form of “social good.” Information services such as the GoodGuide and the Blue Ocean Institute’s FishPhone provide useful and timely ecological information to consumers. The GoodGuide’s iPhone app provides access to consumer product ratings while and the FishPhone text-messaging service will let you know whether that fish you’re about to eat is a good choice for your health and the health of the environment or a bad one.

Product Distribution
Once you’ve designed your mobile activism product, you need to distribute it. And as @wangela said, you need to raise awareness. Building awareness starts with market segmentation. Segmentation sounds like some awful disease you catch at business school, but it’s basically about determining who you want to talk to first.

With mobile applications, who you want to reach is often determined by your choice of technology platform. If you launch an iPhone app, your potential audience is limited to iPhone and iTouch users. On the plus side, the iPhone ecosystem is very good at identifying exciting new applications. DoGood allows people to share information about their good deeds with others. It was developed in three weeks by three University of Michigan students and broke into the top 50 Lifestyle downloads in the App Store within three days of being launched.

Social Context
Engaging in social change using mobile technologies requires the right enabling conditions. In the words of @mbelinsky, “good laws that protect users will help with the scalability of mobile for social good projects.”

It’s really only possible to scratch the surface of this subject. One more resource for exploring what drives consumer adoption of new technologies is this thread started by New York venture capitalist (and early investor in Twitter) Fred Wilson. With more than 300 comments by some of the best thinkers on the subject, it’s an awesome tutorial on technology entrepreneurship.

Justin Adams is an MBA/MS student at the Erb Institute for Sustainable Global Enterprise at the University of Michigan and is currently interning with the Blue Ocean Institute. Prior to graduate school, he worked as a telecommunications consultant, a television producer at MSNBC, an Internet application designer for Baxter Healthcare, and as an English teacher in South Korea. He wants to use the disruptive power of the Internet to create a sustainable and just world.


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