While it has been some time since I pulled the NBC Olympics application off of my iPhone, I think the recent flurry of activity and commentary around the mobile social media space bears some relevance to the tremendous success NBC had with their Olympic endeavors. By all accounts the 2010 WInter Olympics were a huge success for NBC. It's great to see a big media brand delivering on the tenants of a dedicated mobile strategy. NBC leveraged Olympic mobile data and insights collected from the 2008 Beijing games to shape the mobile strategy for the 2010 Winter Games. It was obvious to NBC that mobile would be a huge opportunity for them, and they had put a formal mobile strategy in place, but I don't think they were ready for their Olympic sized success.
- 87 million mobile pageviews for NBC's Olympics coverage this time out versus 35 million pageviews for Beijing.
- 2 million mobile video streams versus 300,000 for Beijing.
- 7 out of 10 users who are now employing mobile to watch the Olympics didn’t use their phones to view the Beijing games.
While the growth in mobile traffic for NBC was not much of a surprise given the meteoric rise in mobile web browsing along with the proliferation of mobile applications, the social media engagement opportunity was. Statistics from comScore around mobile subscribers and their use of social media sites hadn't come out yet. I'm sure that NBC had a hunch - but I'd like to think it was a formal strategy decision on their part.
I firmly believe that in order to have success with a mobile application you need to offer the user continued engagement opportunities. Give them a reason to open the application again. Not just download and open once as so many applications are. Earlier this year Apple announced that over 3 billion applications had been downloaded and that there were well over 100,000 applications in the iTunes App Store - pretty impressive. But when you look deeper at the level of engagement with these apps the picture is not so rosy. There is a steep drop in engagement after the initial download with a majority of these applications. I mean really, how long can you press a fart button for or wave around a light saber before it simply becomes annoying? Only a small percentage of applications actually convert users into long term customers. You need to bring the social media aspect into your offering in order to engage users for the long haul. That's exactly what NBC did.Although the app did not receive the best of praise among several pundits, and there were some definite mobile search issues, not one of the reviewers touted the social media aspects of the offering. The ability to tie into the athletes Facebook and Twitter streams was fun and highly engaging. Although some of the 'open social' commentary was a bit off color at times, this was segregated to its own tab so it didn't mix with the proper athlete's voice. I enjoyed checking in on the various athletes I was following (another feature in the app) and getting updates from Apollo Ohno, Lindsey Vonn, and Shaun White before and after their respective events. Their pre- and post- event ramblings were what kept me coming back - along with videos and medal counts.
Having a defined mobile strategy is a prerequisite, but engagement is the key to mobile application success - not an earth shattering revelation, but hardly the standard that most application developers are achieving.