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A Journalist’s Quick Primer on Who Uses Cell Phones (and How)

A big push in journalism right now? Mobile. An important piece of information for knowing how to make a good journalism strategy for mobile? How people actually use mobile.

There are many types of “mobile” out there, of course (mobile phones, yes, but also an increasing amount of tablets and the like). But the Pew Internet and American Life project just compiled much of its research on cell phone usage and demographic statistics into one handy location. And because the cell phone is still the major mobile device, I thought it might prove helpful to highlight some significant stats as they relate to journalism strategy.

Many of these stats may at first seem most helpful to those dabbling in the business of journalism, but knowing them could also benefit to the savvy journalist. Some stats may be promising for your strategy; some may be a reality check. In any case, “knowing your audience” (and source) is always important, as we have blogged about heavily as of late.

The connected world is not quite flat. It’s worthwhile to have a baseline of probability for content success or finding the right social voices in a pinch.

Here’s a quick primer for how the mobile phone world looks as we approach the end of 2012, along with some brief thoughts on where that knowledge may be useful. (Links to other useful resources at the bottom of the post.)

85 percent of American adults own a cell phone.

Obvious takeaway: Many people have mobile phones, but still not everyone.

82 percent of American cell phone owners use their cell phone to take pictures. If you do the math, that means nearly 70 percent of American adults use cell phones to take pictures.

The percentage of cell phone owners who take pictures is pretty high across all age groups, minus those cell phone owners 65 years of age or older. Just 44 percent of those age 65 and older use their phones for picture-taking, as opposed to 78 percent of cell phone owners between the ages of 50 and 64. Younger cell phone owners are very likely to take pictures on their phone—90 percent of those ages 30 to 49 use phones for pics and 94 percent do so among the 18 – 29 age bracket.

Those with annual incomes over $75,000 are the most likely of Pew’s economic grouping to partake in picture-taking via cell phones, according to the data. Ninety percent of those making $75,000 over report this activity, as opposed to just 77 percent of those making under $30,000.

Quick Takeaway: While this general photo-taking may not go directly hand-in-hand with social photo-taking, this data jibes with the info we have on who uses Instagram. Like the point of that post, it’s important to remember for any particular strategy that certain demographic are more likely to engage in certain activities.

56 percent of American cell phone owners use their cell phone to access the internet. That means only 47.6 percent of American adults use their phone to do anything online.

A smaller percentage checks their email via their phone, too: 50 percent of cell phone owners, or a little under 41 percent of the American public.

As the Pew report points out, accessing the internet via a cell phone is most prevalent among cell phone owners under 50, those with a college or some college education and those making over $75,000 a year.

Statistically significant differences also exist among the survey’s ethnic demographics. Sixty-six percent of Hispanic cell phone owners use their phones for internet access. Sixty percent of black, non-Hispanic cell phone owners use their phones for internet access. Just 52 percent of white, non-Hispanic cell phone owners in the survey use their phones for internet access.

Quick Takeaway: This is more data that shows something similar to the point above about certain demographics being more likely to engage in certain activities and services. Here it may be good to note that the audience on your mobile website may be different than your audience on your regular website. As such, some content may do better in different locations.

43 percent of American cell phone owners use their phone to download apps. If the data holds up, that means a little under 37 percent of the American public use apps on their phone.

Like accessing the internet via cell phone, the young, those in higher income homes and those with college or some college education are most likely to download apps. Sixty-five percent of cell phone owners ages 18 to 29 download apps as opposed to just 8 percent of those over age 65 (and only 25 percent of those between the ages of 50 and 64).

Black non-Hispanics are also statistically significantly more likely to download apps, according to the data. The survey reports 50 percent of black, non-Hispanic cell phone owners downloading apps, as opposed to 44 percent of Hispanics and 40 percent of White, non-Hispanics.

Quick takeaway: Apps still aren’t the hottest thing on cell phones—they’re less popular than just accessing the internet and, as many other activities on cell phones appear, it still skews towards the young. Depending on your audience, that could be either good or bad.

This round-up only skims the surface of the wealth of useful data worth digging into over at Pew. If you’re interested in more mobile statistics relevant to journalism strategy, check out this round-up of Pew data and more from earlier this fall. Or this one

 

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