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Information overload: The psychology of being connected 24/7

Adam Marchick

Adam Marchick is CEO of Kahuna

By Adam Marchick

My smartphone is rarely more than five feet away from me, and this is likely true for the other 1.75 billion people who have one. The sum total of human knowledge is just a few moments away from us at all times, from almost anywhere on earth. 

When everyone has access to constant streams of status updates, news reports, memes and videos, do our brains change the way we filter information? How receptive are we throughout the day? When do we suffer from disinterest or fatigue?

When are people using apps?
Our analysis of application usage reveals that people do have distinct time preferences on mobile. 

Ten o’clock at night is the most-preferred time to engage, and midnight to noon is the least preferred time frame, rounded to the nearest hour. This makes sense even the most technology-dependent need to sleep. 

Interestingly, while 10 p.m. is the most popular time preference, it is still preferred by a small minority of total people, that is, less than 11 percent of people analyzed. There is no golden hour when it comes to app usage.

Implications for how consumers process information via mobile
This analysis elucidates important insights about the way in which we process information in today’s world of information overload. 

First, it validates that people do have clear preferences about when they interact with information on mobile phones. 

Just because people have access to apps 24/7, it does not mean we are using them at all hours of the day. 

Humans are creatures of habit, and this translates to the digital world. 

We shop at specific times, we check out news and sports scores at perhaps different times. 

Mobile users have unique preferences for how and when they interact with information on mobile. 

Even users of the same app will interact with it at very different times of the day. 

And in a world where mobile is accessible at all times of the day, we have all the more choices and it is all the more difficult to predict when someone will choose to engage. 

It is easy to predict when someone may shop at your physical store, because you are open for business between 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. 

It becomes slightly harder to predict when someone will visit your Web site, but the choices are still limited. Consumers are only in front of their computers for so long, and cannot access them on the go. 

But mobile is a entirely different story. 

Your phone is the last thing you check before going to bed and the first thing you check after waking. 

With the limitless possibilities, individual preferences are all the more difficult to predict.

Case in point: push notifications
How can apps incorporate these time preference trends into their communication strategy? How can they be present when we want them without annoying us when we do not? 

Push notifications are an increasingly important part of our lives, because they are one of the only forms of multimedia communication that can reach us at all times, in all situations. 

Just because we can be accessed immediately and at all times does not mean apps should abuse this privilege. 

Push messaging is often mistakenly viewed as an extension of email, or as just another way to get in contact with customers. 

However, there are extremely important differences that affect how users react to receiving messages. 

When an email is sent out, it sits dormant in an inbox until someone opens it when she has the time and interest. 

Consumers often have a certain time of day when they open their email and read through messages, which means that they choose when to start the interaction. 

However, you cannot send a push notification and expect users to wait to interact with it until the time is right. 

Mobile phones are perpetually a part of our lives, and we check them on a seemingly constant interval. 

Consumers see push notifications almost immediately, whether or not they are interested in engaging with them. If they are not relevant at that exact moment, they will be ignored and forgotten entirely. 

IT IS CRITICAL to understand exactly when users are ready to interact with your app, and deliver your push notifications accordingly. 

Poor timing can spell trouble for your app. 

To provide real value, you have to honestly ask yourself how your app fits into a consumer’s life, and to respect this relationship. 

If you are too overbearing, you will easily ruin this important push notification channel and cause individuals to opt out of push notifications or uninstall. 

However, if you seek to better understand your users and cater to their needs, push notifications can be a huge win. 

In an era of constant communication, only the apps that take a critical approach and respect mobile communication will be able to cut through the digital noise. 

Adam Marchick is CEO of Kahuna, Palo Alto, CA. Reach him at

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Related content: Columns, Adam Marchick, Kahuna, applications, apps, push notifications, mobile marketing, mobile advertising, mobile commerce, mobile, luxury marketing, luxury

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