Insights from mobile support research

The Mix Staff

Young people are prolific, skilled and dedicated users of technology. And the focus of this love of tech is their phones.

In the quantitative and qualitative research we did for the ‘How young people use mobiles to seek help’ project we looked to identify insights into help seeking behavior that – when applied to mobile technology – could be used to inform opportunities for development in the mobile space.


For me, my phone is a trusted friend

For young people their phone was a consistent presence. It was a trusted friend and – like any good friend – a supporter and motivator.
In our workshops, we looked at how functional tools like calendars and alerts could support young people but we also worked on softer concepts. Young people often spoke of getting a “virtual hug” from their phone that could offer reassurance, build confidence or provide pertinent information when it was needed.
“Wingman” was one such concept – a constant companion and adviser that offered support, motivation and praise driven by a personal profile that allowed the application to react to a young person’s individual needs and interests as well as grow with them over time.

  • 82% of young people always had their phones on, even in bed (YouthNet 2012, survey).
  • Young people trusted their mobile phones to be the thing that would help to keep their lives together and wanted their phones to play an even larger role in motivating and supporting them (YouthNet 2012, workshops).
  • Many of the ideas of support for mobile technologies developed by young people were about mentoring, inspiring, motivating and “giving a hug” (YouthNet 2012, workshops).


I want my phone to keep me productive

Young people are under more pressure than ever before to get it together. They are under social pressure to keep up with their friends, pressure from the media to keep up to date with latest movies, music and games, pressure to get down the gym and look good. Most importantly they’re under pressure to perform at school and university because they need good qualifications to get a job in an ever more challenging and competitive job market.

As a result, young people reported feeling “stuck”, “out of control” and “unable to achieve their goals”. It’s not surprising that they were looking for support to keep them on track and on time. They wanted to see functionality in their phones that could prompt or even bully them into more productive behaviour.

One of the concepts developed by our groups was “Arse kicker”. “Arse kicker” was a kind of super-calendar that combined updates and alerts with forthright motivation and humorous encouragement.

It shows how young people might utilise the functionality of phones to enhance their lives and how they appreciated an element of humour and irreverence in a product even when it was doing something as boring as getting them out of bed in the morning.

  • Young people liked apps that gave practical solutions to problems such as the HSBC banking app, bus finder app etc (YouthNet 2012, workshops and focus groups).
  • Young people thought one of the main benefits of mobile technology was its practical functions (GPS, camera, heart rate monitor, barcode scanner…) (YouthNet 2012,  focus groups).


I can benefit from distraction

Stress was a consistent factor in young people’s lives. From self harm to job interviews, talking to a partner or waiting for exam results, stress underpinned nearly all the issues we discussed in our workshops.
Many young people used their phones for entertainment and a significant amount of young them had games on their phones or used them to curate favourite pictures and music. These activities and even checking social media updates were all behaviours that could distract from stressful situations.
We worked on concepts like the “Freak out Sponge” and the “Virtual Punchbag” – mobile panic buttons that could be carried with young people wherever they went that could be used to take the stress out of a situation.
It is worth noting that many young people had actually destroyed phones while under stress so they loved the idea of something that could help them cope without shattering their prized possession into a million pieces.
More importantly, providing a tool that helped young people to de-stress a situation gave them the space to make reasoned choices about next steps.

  • In 2011 65% used the internet for entertainment, a 110% increase since 2008 (Ofcom 2008 and 2011).
  • In 2012 50% used their phone for playing or downloading games, images, video or music (EU stats, 2012).
  • Young people used their phones to “kill” time and would be “more bored” if mobile technology was not available (YouthNet 2012, workshops).


I need my answers now!

Young people expected their phones to provide quick and focused information. They felt the ability of apps to cut through waffle on websites and provide focused, lightweight information was vital to help them make confident choices in real time.

Young people are “digital natives”. For them convergence between devices was part of their everyday reality. They would move seamlessly between their phone and their PCs for different information needs.

To serve this need for quick answers, we worked concepts like the “Virtual Guru”, a service that connected young people to experts who could provide instant, personalised answers on any topic.

Young people told us if you can’t say it quickly on mobile, don’t say it all.

  • 65% used their phone if they needed to know something urgently (YouthNet 2012, survey).
  • 63% used their phone if they needed local information (YouthNet 2012, survey).
  • For 45% a session seeking information on their phone would last less than 10 minutes (YouthNet 2012, survey).
  • When researching complex issues, 92% would rather use their PC (YouthNet 2012, survey).
  • The average time that users who access TheSite through mobile spend is 52 seconds, against 1 minute 47 seconds for those accessing TheSite through PC/laptop (YouthNet web analysis, 2012).


I don’t want to feel pressurised by my friends

At the core of a young person’s relationship with their phone was the vital real time link it provided with their peer group. It was how they kept in touch with their friends and found out what was going on. To lose your mobile or even downgrade to lesser model with decreased functionality was seen as “social death”.

Social media had a huge and intrusive reach through mobile as status updates and tweets followed a young person everywhere. Young people were bombarded with messages of their peers having a great time and felt challenged to be doing the same. Young people reported the strain of having to put on a show all the time and how this could be deeply corrosive to self esteem and personal image.

There is huge potential for services that harness the inherently social nature of mobile.

We looked at concepts like “Soulstock”, a viral game that allowed young people to invite their friends to visit them in their own virtual home decorated with the music, images and content they share.

But we also explored how we equip young people to handle themselves in the social sphere through the extension of the training we offer to give them the skills they need to become a supporting force for good among their peers.

  • 59% of young people accessed social networks daily (YouthNet 2012, survey).
  • Young people were put under pressure by the expectations of social media to be seen to be cool, happy, partying etc (YouthNet 2012, focus groups).
  • Young people compared hardware and software on each other’s phones and will make a judgement based upon this. (YouthNet 2012, focus groups).
  • Young people were wary of installing apps that are obviously relating to seeking help – they must be packaged accordingly (YouthNet 2012, focus groups).

Anonymity and privacy was probably the biggest concern that young people had when seeking support online and this translates into the mobile space.

However, unlike PCs where young people were pretty confident managing their privacy settings and clearing browser caches, young people struggled to perform the same tasks on their phones. They were also worried about how and with whom their data was shared by service providers. This meant they were reluctant to access account-based systems or share personal details on their phones that could drive truly powerful support services.


I want to take control of my identity

For anyone producing mobile services the challenge is both to ensure that data is managed responsibly and to do it transparently enough to allow young people to make choices about their personal information. But there is also a challenge to young people to learn the skills they need to take responsibility for their own safety online.

  • Young people are more likely to be worried about their data being tracked on their mobile than on their PC (YoutNet 2012, focus groups).
  • Young people don’t know how to protect their phones from viruses (YoutNet 2012, focus groups).
  • Young people are concerned many apps can collect data and share it with the app provider/ advertisers (YoutNet 2012, focus groups).
  • Only 25% would use their phone if they wanted to keep their research private (YouthNet 2012, survey).
  • Only 9% of young people would sign in with a personalised log in for a personal answer to a question from an expert (YouthNet 2012, survey).


I want my phone to do more to support me

Young people wanted phones to do more for them and believed that technology could fill in the gaps where they struggled with challenging situations.

We worked on concepts like “YouNi” where a phone’s existing functionality could be brought together to provide a holistic solution for young people starting at university. Here a map of the campus, communication with tutors and course mates, and information on university life could all be served to the user allowing new students to get up to speed with university life fast.

In our workshops we conducted an exercise in which young people were encouraged to imagine what their phone might do for them in five years time. One user anticipated a virtual library generated in a force field around him creating a warm, safe space for study.

Young people loved the idea that their phone could do amazing things and were particularly attracted to biometric functionality that allowed a phone to take your pulse or a picture of your face to tell you if you are sick or stressed and serve you content accordingly.

What this demonstrated was young people’s absolute belief in the power of technology and the transformative effect it could have in supporting them to take control of their lives.


My phone is private even in a crowd

Young people used their phones everywhere. Young people’s urgent need to have quick answers, combined with the trusted and personal relationship they had with their phone meant they would use it to seek help and support on sensitive issues even when they were in public spaces.

In reality a phone made it easier for young people to keep information private in shared spaces because of the small screen and the fact that the phone was their unique property.

Contrary to PCs and tablets which were often shared devices or accessed more publicly – for example in the family home or school – the perception of privacy in phones suggested that need rather than physical environment was the primary consideration of young people when accessing sensitive content through their phone.

  • 48% of young people said they don’t mind where they are when accessing social networks and 43% of young people said they don’t mind where they are when having short internet sessions to seek information (YouthNet 2012, survey).
  • 24% used their phone when socialising with others, 23% during mealtimes, 19% in the toilet or bathroom (Ofcom 2011).


I want my content to be creative and shareable but not patronising

Young people saw themselves and their lives represented through the contents of their phone, using them to collect their favourite music, pictures and apps and sharing these with their peers.

Young people wanted the latest, most engaging and useful thing and worked this out by comparing their phone’s contents with friends.

As a result the language and the tone of applications needed to be light and fun on mobile technologies  – especially when there was a need to motivate (e.g. “Arse kicker” vs “Personal Planner”) but it must not be seen as patronising or self consciously “cool”.

Less positively young people would also make negative judgments based on the contents of a phone.

They were wary of installing apps which were obviously relating to seeking help.

  • 44% of young people heard of new technologies through recommendations (YouthNet 2012, survey).
  • 36% heard of new technologies through recommendations through social media (YouthNet 2012, survey).
  • PCs were seen as less frivolous than phones (YouthNet 2012, focus groups and workshops).


I love mobile web but I still call and text

While there has been a huge rise in the numbers of young people accessing the mobile internet, for a significant proportion of them making calls and sending texts was still the primary use of their phones – indeed 75% of young people send texts every day and 45% make calls.

Young people moved between the social channels like Facebook and Twitter and one to one texting depending on the urgency and sensitivity of the communication. They did this seamlessly and with very little forethought.

In our groups many young people expressed the desire to have expert support and motivation messages delivered via text which was seen as quick, easy and private.

While mobile web offered many opportunities, those designing services for young people must be aware that they will still use text and voice calls to seek direct one to one support from their family and peers.

  • 73% of young people owned a Smartphone (YouthNet 2012, survey).
  • Voice calls were used for private messages to one person where an immediate response was expected (YouthNet 2012, focus groups).
  • Texts were used for private messages to one person where an immediate response is expected (YouthNet 2012, focus groups).
  • Email was used for professional communication (YouthNet 2012, focus groups).
  • Twitter was used when communicating to more than person at once where an immediate response is expected (YouthNet 2012, focus groups).
  • Facebook was used when communicating to more than person at once when the answer can wait. (YouthNet 2012, focus groups)
  • Social media was used when young people are comfortable with the communication being public. (YouthNet 2012, focus groups)


Published on 07-Oct-2013