In issue 14’s editorial of our magazine Comunicas?, I quoted one of Shakespeare’s characters in the classic play Henry IV. The character is called the Rumour and his line goes: “Making the winds my post-horses…”

I have used this line several times since then to illustrate my point on corporate reputation in current times. “What would Shakespeare say”, I went on writing in that editorial, “when word-of-mouth does not use traditional means of transportation anymore, but blogs, social networks and specialized forums? And what happens as that communication turns mobile through Smartphones, and subsequently, becomes geo-located?

That is a great opportunity for marketing purposes. Since writing that editorial at the beginning of 2009, only one year and a half later, I am observing that winds are multiplying at an exponential pace: August 2010 was a crucial month in our country. That month, Spain’s number 1 mobile phone company Movistar stopped being the exclusive iPhone provider. iPhones have since spread everywhere. It is all promising and points toward an explosion of mobile marketing and its investment figures in our country.

Investment figures are rising

A year ago, different surveys by Nielsen already showed that the figures related to social media were growing at a spectacular pace. Time spent in social media by internet users had multiplied by three (17%). Advertising investment had increased by 119%, and 15% of this was for social media (twice the figure of just one year before). The entertainment industry had increased its online investment on social media by 812%, the travel and leisure sector by 364%. 

In addition, the global traffic to social networking sites grew by 82% between December 2008 and December 2009 (three hours to five and a half on average). Still in December 2009, unique audience of social media sites amounted to 142 million in the US, 20 million in Spain, 30 in the UK, and these people spent an average of 6 hours online.

In June 2010, the top ten sectors in share of US Internet time was led by social networks with 22.7%, (15.8% in June 2009). In April 2010, more studies by Nielsen showed that advertising on Facebook was effective. The research studied the answers of 800 000 users about 14 different brands, and issued a lot of valuable data that backed common-sense beliefs (you’ll be more likely to buy from a brand your friends follow, or, managing communities around a brand will ease your commercial efforts). The study also drew less common-sense conclusions. It showed, for instance, the value of hybrid approaches to social media, when combining a brand’s own space with its space in social networking sites.
In still more surveys, now by Emarketer, we find that worldwide advertising on social networks are expected to hit $ 3.3 billion in 2010. This is a 31% increase compared to 2009 ($ 2.5 billion).

Phones on the map

Let’s go back to the Shakespearean image of the post-horses for a bit. What changes are Smartphones bringing in? According to a blog post from Flowtown, people using Facebook on their phones are twice more active than non-mobile users; Facebook mobile access grew by 112% on the last year and Twitter’s grew 347%. What does this mean for business?

Yet another recent Nielsen study shows that regardless of the platform (iPhone, Android, BlackBerry or Windows Mobile) the most common applications among mobile internet users are about friends (Facebook), the weather (The Weather Channel), music (Pandora) and local information (Google Maps). This makes the customer’s location a very important feature, despite another and disappointing finding: In all age groups, nearly 90% of mobile internet users do not pay attention to the ads on their small screen. 

How could we reverse that situation? In my opinion, considering the fourth main searching interest is local items, a good way to overcome mobile internet users’ “blindness” is to make an ad geo-intelligent.

Geo-location, an opportunity for businesses 

The possibilities of geo-location start with customers finding you on the map and letting their acquaintances know that they are at your place (by checking in online). As read in Mashable, several application makers are making the checking-in experience more passive and implicit.

So opening a business profile in Google Places is a first step. As we know, there are more directories of places including AOL’s Patch, IAC’s Citygrid or Foursquare. Instead of writing a line or two on Foursquare, you better read the excellent account of a fellow Marketing Mag blogger. In addition, people who visit Fourwhere (mash up of Foursquare and Google Maps) will read the comments left by Foursquare users in the places they visited.

Furthermore, Foursquare’s fearsome competitor, Facebook Places recently arrived in the battlefield with the clear intention to involve advertisers. Facebook wants businesses to understand the benefits of being in Places.

Its how-to guide explains: 

“Places creates a presence for your business’s physical store locations- encouraging your customers to share that they’ve visited your business by “checking in” to your Place. When your customer checks into your Place, these check-in stories can generate powerful, organic impressions in friends’ News Feeds, extending your brand’s reach to new customers.”

…and we need not remind the reader that Facebook users hit 500 million last July.

The future of geo-location and mobile marketing

Having an enormous amount of geo-located customers is not only an opportunity for shops and small businesses in a neighbourhood. Customers who check in at businesses related in some way to your own could also receive advertisements, news, comments about your products and services. Customers who visit the city trendy (or residential, or commercial, or financial) area will be much more likely to respond to a certain kind of advertisement, comment or piece of news about you.

Social media has given us much more insight into the customer’s habits and interests. Geo-location allows us to have one more crucial bit of information about the customer, which is relevant to virtually any kind of business out there, and opens a wide field for marketing innovation.