Smartphones, tablets and wearables can be powerful tools for supporting sustained behaviour change. Their place in our personal sphere, and their “always-on” nature, present an unprecedented opportunity to engage and interact.

What are social & mobile apps?

The proliferation of mobile devices, particularly in the Australian context (where there are more mobile phones than people), has been rapid and is increasing. The growth in tablet computing is out-pacing laptop and desktop computer purchases by a significant margin.

Similarly, the idea of “wearable” computing, epitomised by devices such as fitness trackers (like Fitbit and Jawbone UP) and smartwatches like the Apple Watch), are gaining increasing traction and becoming “mainstream”.

These devices are often utilised to create subtle, yet powerful, ways of influencing and changing behaviour, which can have great benefit in for-purpose applications. Fitness trackers like those mentioned earlier are a great example of this at work—employing both custom devices (the tracker), smartphone apps, and community engagement & social dynamics, to influence people to be more active and lead healthier lifestyles.


The Flavour Crusader project is an example of smartphone app encouraging sustainability outcomes.

However, such technologies can be employed in a variety of contexts, including:

Social networks have also grown in popularity and use significantly in recent years, with over 14 million Australians (~60%) using Facebook. Social networks can be harnessed for a variety of for-purpose goals, including customer support and campaigning/advocacy.

However, the inherent social-ness of these services provides an opportunity to leverage behavioural economics and game dynamics (also referred to as “gamification”) to achieve behavioural change.

Often these social dynamics are combined with custom devices and smartphone apps to deliver compelling services that also encourage positive behaviour change. For example, fitness apps such as Strava are built upon the strength of their community, employing peer support, challenges (game dynamics) and other techniques to encourage more physical activity (with positive social outcomes).

The challenge

There are lots of questions raised when engaging social networks. Should you contribute to existing platforms and communities, or start your own? Which platforms are right for you? What does authentic engagement—that adds value to the community at the same time as driving business returns—look like for your organisation?

Designing social applications requires a different approach to traditional apps and website design. In addition to designing for individuals to carry out specific tasks (task-oriented design), social and community dynamics also need to be considered. Principles of behavioural economics and game dynamics (also known as “gamification”) can have both positive and negative effects—so it’s important to choose the right techniques that achieve your intended objectives (and not unintended, negative, side-effects).

For these reasons, designing for communities is best done with the communities you aim to serve. Participatory design techniques can be highly valuable in determining what’s going to work (and importantly, what doesn’t) to achieve your objectives. But what approaches would be useful in your context? Who should be engaged in these processes?

Engaging social networks calls for a “two-way” approach to thinking about value creation—where value is exchanged or co-created with, rather than “extracted” from, the community. This requires thinking about designing not just products or services, but platforms for shared value creation. It also requires a concerted and consistent effort, with resources allocated to maintain and manage the level of community engagement to achieve meaningful results.

Similarly, designing for the mobile context is a very different proposition to traditional models of design. Should you build an app, or a mobile-friendly website (or both)? Do you need to provide a targeted mobile experience, or support the full range of content and features provided through other channels? Are you able to take advantage of mobile-specific capabilities (such as sensors, location-awareness etc.) to provide enhanced services not available through other means? What is the interaction between your digital and real world offering?

Once you’ve identified the “what”, things like “mobile-first” and responsive design principles, consideration of “in-situ” use cases and the varied environments in which the technology will be used, and other factors all come into play. It’s a lot more than just thinking about what an app will look like.

Put mobile and social together, and it can be quite a complex proposition to design and deliver a successful offering…

How we can help

We can apply our capabilities to help you:

  • build understanding within your organisation as to how you can engage social networks and/or mobile devices to achieve your mission objectives, and how you can strategically adapt to take advantage of these opportunities
  • apply behavioural economics, social change theory and game dynamics in the design of social/mobile services, apps and products—from app and website interfaces through to full service design
  • gather stakeholder insights on how the groups you wish to engage currently use social and mobile technologies in their day-to-day practice to understand how your organisation can add, as well as receive, value
  • facilitate dialogue within your team as to how social network engagement might manifest in your organisation, and how to put the appropriate supporting structures and culture in place to support it
  • identify and engage with existing communities of practice that are strategically aligned
  • design and build compelling mobile apps and devices to support your own community of practice and achieve your mission objectives