How Mobile’s Demographic Shift Impacts Local

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Here’s a remarkable statistic from a study conducted this summer by mobile engagement company mBlox: 90% of consumers aged 18-24 spend 1 to 5 hours every day on their mobile devices. For 10% of consumers in the same age group, the daily number goes up to 5 to 10 hours. If one compares these statistics to the time spent on other leisure activities, as reported in the Labor Department’s most recent American Time Use Survey, it’s fair to assume that young people in the 18-24 demographic spend, on average, more time on mobile devices today than they do watching television. It also appears that mobile usage is far ahead of “playing games and computer use for leisure,” which accounts for a little less than one hour per day for the same group, according to the Labor Department.

What does this mean for the future of local search and local media? I would say it’s not unlike the lessons the Republican Party was forced to confront in the aftermath of its recent election defeat. As was the case with U.S. voters, American consumers are changing their shopping and buying behaviors dramatically, and this massive shift is being led by the younger generation. So when we see statistics that show, for instance, map-related searches declining on desktops and rising on mobile devices, the hidden driver in that type of transition is likely the activity of the youngest segment of consumers.

The younger that consumers get, the less money they have to spend, of course. As one might expect, the Census Bureau reports a big income disparity between Americans under 25 years of age, who earn an average of $25,695 per year before taxes, and those in the 25-34 demographic, whose income jumps to $58,946. There’s likely a sweet spot of consumers in their mid-twenties where high mobile usage overlaps with an uptick in disposable income.

What’s interesting is that mobile apps focused on local have done little as yet to appeal specifically to this group. One would think of Foursquare as an exception, and yet the Ignite Social Media study for 2012 indicates that Foursquare users are actually getting older. Where the 2010 edition of the same study showed 41% of Foursquare users fell between the ages of 25 and 34, this year that number dropped to 25%, while the largest growth was in users 45-54 who went from 12% of all users in 2010 to 25% in 2012. Still, one imagines that even as its base broadens, the most active Foursquare users will continue to be the younger group.

Aside from Foursquare, who on the mobile/local/social scene is trying to appeal to a younger audience? One might take a simplistic approach and say that anything related to games, text messaging, or social sharing is likely to grab young people’s attention — but such assumptions are not necessarily correct. A Nielsen study of popular Android apps by age, conducted in December 2011, revealed that Angry Birds, the most popular mobile game at the time, had a stronger share of audience in the 35-44 demographic than among the 18-24 set.

Instead of marketing to a perceived notion of young people’s mobile activities, local apps should focus on developing innovative ways to interact with businesses and communities that naturally overlap with the activities young people engage in. One app with very strong potential in this area is Kapture. Building on the success of photo sharing apps like Instagram, Kapture rewards users for taking and sharing pictures of businesses and products. Supporting offers from about 300 businesses in New York City today, Kapture currently offers an iPhone app and plans to launch an Android version in 2013.

Kapture offers a strong combination of what businesses want and what young consumers are doing anyway. A restaurant visitor might share a picture of a meal and be rewarded with a free beer. The consumer gets a perk, the business gets an innovative way to bring in customers, and the site gets a steady stream of user-generated pictures that enhance the overall experience for businesses and consumers alike. Eventually, an inventory of store-related pictures could easily become a valuable commodity in itself, prized as a source of unique content in much the same way as Yelp’s reviews.

More importantly, Kapture represents the kind of innovation that has the potential to win over a huge and highly engaged audience that is underserved by today’s local apps.

Damian Rollison is VP of Product and Technology at Universal Business Listing, a company dedicated to promoting online visibility for local businesses. Damian holds degrees from UC Berkeley and the University of Virginia, where he worked at the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities. You can connect with him on Twitter.

Damian Rollison is Director of Market Insights at SOCi.