Mobile Mania

Social media icons on an iPhone

In the technology world, 2011 is shaping up to be the “Year of the Tablet.” In addition to the growing popularity of Apple’s iPad and the launch of the iPad2, the market now boasts Research In Motion’s PlayBook, Acer’s Iconia, Lenovo’s IdeaPad and Motorola’s Xoom , to name a few. With these new tools on the rise and a rapidly expanding smartphone field, social media and mobile apps are playing larger and larger roles in business strategy for a wide range of industries.

The Sellinger School’s Gloria Phillips-Wren, Ph.D., is an associate professor and chair of information systems and operations management, as well as academic director of Loyola’s Executive MBA programs.  She teaches social media strategy and conducts research in the areas of business intelligence, analytics, and decision support. In this interview, she explores mobile technology and social media and their implications on business and education.
How are businesses using social media? What kind of opportunities and risks can it present?
All organizations—from small, privately-owned companies to large corporations to non-profits—are realizing the power and peril of social media.

Companies used to only meet their customers in person—in the store or in meetings. With the arrival of the Web, the interaction was virtual but primarily one-way, from the company to the customer. As social media has spread, companies can now have two-way communication with anyone who wants to interact with them. Companies know that this new means of connecting with their customers has a great deal of power, but few are truly comfortable with this new medium. One problem is that companies can no longer easily control the interaction. People can congregate and debate the merits of a product; they can organize themselves for or against a company; and they can control the conversation. However, they can also come up with great ideas for new or improved products, effectively extending the company’s resources, and their comments or videos can “go viral,” expanding awareness of the company or product in a way never before possible.

What impact will social media have going forward?

First, everyone is getting in the social media game; it’s here to stay, so opting out isn’t really an option at all.

Second, all companies need a social media strategy. For example, one of our recent Executive MBA graduates owns a company that sells water treatment products. Part of his current strategy is to utilize social media to create added value for his customers with the goal of gaining market share by offering a unique service in combination with his products. One way he does this is by enabling customers to take pictures of the water in their pools with their phones or cameras and upload the images to the company’s website. The resolution is good enough that experts in the company can analyze the water and recommend a treatment plan. The customers can then order and receive the needed water treatment products without leaving the comfort of their back yard. That’s really cool! 

Finally, companies should plan for the future with these technologies by looking at interesting ways to combine them for strategic advantage. Rather than using Twitter as a one-way push, it would be better to engage a person in an individualized conversation with a combination of Twitter, an app, and a site for interaction such as crowd-sourcing—when companies broadcast a problem or question to a group of users and have an open forum for solutions. Companies are also using these technologies to find the best talent all over the globe and combining them to produce new and innovative products with dispersed teams. 
What about mobile technology such as tablets? What implications do they have for business?
The story here is flexibility and mobility using a server-based environment. Cloud computing—which is a network of computational resources on demand—is part of the mix of technologies that make the tablet work. Envision access to your company’s data anywhere, anytime using an app. To increase security, the data stays safely on the company servers. Now the data can be analyzed or processed for a presentation in real-time. Cloud computing offers computer resources for processing much like electricity is used to run your home appliances.

How can we incorporate mobile technology and social media into learning?

Mobile technology and social media are a natural combination in education. While purely online courses have proven to be less-than-ideal learning environments because communication is limited, blended or hybrid courses use a mix of personal interaction, mobile technology, and social media to allow people to talk to each other, and even see each other, without being physically in the same place at the same time. Classmates can debate an idea, share photos, project their computer screen to others, listen to a lecture, or discuss a live case, synchronously or asynchronously from anywhere. We can have classes that are more inclusive, flexible, and diverse because they can be delivered, at least in part, through mobile technology that fits better into people’s busy personal and professional lives. Continual learning is the engine that drives innovation, and these new technologies offer exciting opportunities for people to collaborate and share ideas without the boundaries of time and location.