AT&T Launches Text-to-Donate Service for Flint Water Crisis



AT&T recently announced a new text-to-give campaign benefiting the children of the Flint water crisis. The water crisis occurred when the state of Michigan switched Flint's water source from Detroit's system to the Flint River to reduce costs. Residents subsequently ingested high amounts of lead, with many claiming developmental disabilities in their children. Seven families have filed a class-action lawsuit against Michigan Governor Rick Snyder. The lawsuit names several other city and state officials. 


The Long Wait

According to sources, water from Flint taps “smelled and tasted strange,” though residents had to wait over a year for testing. In their lawsuit, residents cite the Safe Drinking Water Act, a federal law that outlines rules and regulations concerning safe drinking water all over the country. The law was put in place by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Democratic presidential nominees Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have both spoken out about the Flint water crisis, though Republican nominees have mostly stayed mute on the issue. President Obama approved federal funding for Flint earlier this year.

The class-action suit was filed on behalf of Flint’s tens of thousands of residents, who claim their children are suffering from health issues such as seizures, language problems, weight loss, stunted growth, anemia, headaches, abdominal pain, learning problems, mental and emotional stress, and more. Other issues stemming from the water crisis include property damage, water service line destruction, medical/educational/rehabilitation expenses, loss of income and earning capacity, and devaluation of property damages. 

The suit was filed by attorneys Hunter Shkolnik and Adam Slater, who say Governor Snyder and his associates acted in a negligent, reckless manner, as they were aware of the problem in 2014 but did nothing about it. Complaints concerning strange illnesses and rashes began in 2015.


Simply Sending a Text

Helping residents of Flint is as simple as sending a text message. Those who wish to donate can text ‘FLINT’ to 27722 to make a $10 donation to the Flint Child Health and Development Fund of the Community Foundation of Greater Flint. Donations are added to the sender’s monthly wireless bill.  


A Large Contribution

In January of this year, AT&T donated $50,000 to the development fund. Kathi Horton, President of the Community Foundation of Greater Flint, noted how grateful the community is to AT&T for its continued support. AT&T has also created a YourCause employee contribution page so their employees from all over the world can help families struggling in the wake of this crisis. 

Jim Murray, the President of AT&T Michigan, remarked that AT&T is committed to helping the families in Flint and acknowledged mobile technology for helping people stay connected. He said that the texting campaign went a step further by allowing people to help each other. 

Michigan’s Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley noted that the generosity of residents during the water crisis has been a “testament” to the character and resilience of families in the community and the state at large.  



Text Messaging as a Weight Loss Tool?



Is text messaging the next big weight loss tool? Very possibly. Research has clearly indicated people take better care of their health when they keep track of their eating and exercise habits, and text messaging can function as a modern-day food diary. Researchers at Duke University published a study on texting and weight loss in the online edition of the Journal of Medical Internet Research in 2013, which found that tracking health and wellness through text not only saved people time, but potentially made staying with a diet and exercise plan more likely. 


More On the 2013 Study

Duke University researchers studied 50 obese women for six months, with 26 of the women utilizing daily texting as part of the school’s Shape Plan weight-loss intervention. The women lost nearly three pounds each. The other 24 women did not use text messages to help with their weight loss efforts, and gained an average of 2.5 pounds each. The average age of the participants was 38. 

Daily text messages revolved around tips, tailored recommendations such as “no sugary drinks,” and taking 10,000 steps per day, as well as feedback. Participants received text messages every morning from an automated system, such as "Please text yesterday's # of steps you walked, # of sugary drinks, and if you ate fast food." The automated system sent customized feedback based on what the participants replied, as well as a tip. 


The Benefits

Dori Steinberg, a post-doctoral obesity researcher in the Duke Obesity Prevention Program and the study’s lead author, remarked that text messaging offered a number of benefits with which other self-monitoring methods cannot compete. Such benefits include the fact that data is easily and quickly entered into a text message compared with other web-based diet and exercise diaries. This ability results in (almost) real-time tracking, portability convenience, and increased personalized feedback. 

Another benefit is the limited number of characters involved with text messaging, which reduces the “detail and cognitive load” traditionally associated with keeping track of exercise and diet. Previous research indicates that long-term health monitoring is lackluster due to time and labor, extensive numeracy and literacy skills, and general burden. 

Study participants noted that texting helped them reach their goals in part because it was so easy. 


More Studies

Other studies concerning text messaging as a weight loss tool came up with similar findings. One study published in the Computers, Informatics, and Nursing journal in 2013 found that participants who utilized text message services lost more weight than those who did not, with texts including motivational messages, healthy snack ideas, and other tips. As with the Duke University study, texting was an interactive process that required participants to text “yes” or “no” regarding whether or not they put the advice into practice. 

Another study looked at text messaging as an “intervention medium” for weight loss, and found that SMS is an informative, encouraging, easy-to-use, affordable tool for managing weight and overall health. The study called for more substantial, randomized trials to determine optimal use for text messaging as a weight loss tool, among other things. 

Will text messaging become synonymous with weight loss? It certainly looks that way...



Virgin Leads the Way with mTickets



In the UK, Richard Branson’s train operator has become the first franchised rail company to offer mobile tickets across all routes. So-called ‘m-tickets’ - which use a barcode presented on a mobile screen in order to grant passage - will be available for purchase on the Virgin Trains website and app.

The move will allow passengers to use mobile devices as both shopping portal and proof of purchase, streamlining the process - and saving tonnes of orange card to boot. Commuters can bid goodbye to lengthy lines at the ticket machine, and never have to worry about losing their proof of purchase again. It’s hoped that Virgin - so often a pioneer in new ways of doing business - will be the touchpaper for other train companies to follow suit.

After a successful pilot, m-tickets became available across all Virgin routes earlier this month. As of April, passengers will be able to buy mobile tickets on the website.

Commercial Director Graham Leech said the firm loves “innovating for our customers, which is why we were the first train company to introduce automatic delay repay and why we’re now the first franchised operator to bring in m-tickets.”

For regular rail users, such innovations are long overdue. Smart ticketing practices that use the full force of the mobile technology we all carry with us promise to improve train travel and cut down on unnecessary waste. 


Technologies That Changed Retail



In 2016, global business to consumer e-commerce sales is expected to reach $1.92 trillion. As impressive as this figure from Statista is, that’s millions of lost in-store experiences and missed customer service conversations. In an age of convenience, it can be easy to forget about what you might be missing.

Many shoppers enjoy walking down the aisles of large retail stores, checking prices and talking to people. They also like to touch the things they plan on buying. For every gained purchase online, a material purchase is lost, which has raised the stakes considerably for brick-and-mortar retail locations. If ever these stores needed a hero, it would be now. 

Who would have guessed that mobile technology could be that hero? The use of mobile technology in retail stores could save many from going out of business and help them keep pace with online shopping trends. Here’s how mobile technology is changing the retail game in a world full of online shoppers.

Saving Time with Retail Mobile Technology

Often, it’s faster to ask someone a question, make a suggestion, or compare two products than it is to find credible answers online. In fact, digging around on the Internet is almost more time-consuming than driving to the store in the first place.

Now, imagine all sales associates have smartphones or tablets that can locate what you want anywhere in the store. They can give you a price check, compare prices, and tell you where else you might find what you’re looking for. This is the direction mobile technology is heading, as physical retailers scramble to catch up on the super-highway. By empowering employees to help customers, mobile saves time while providing people with truly authentic service. Plus, shoppers get to walk out of the store with their merchandise in tow—no delivery time needed. 


Increase Productivity Among Retail Employees

Additionally, mobile technology will help retail owners save money by increasing the overall productivity of employees. In addition to customer service, mobile technology allows sales associates to manage inventories, place orders, receive shipments, take phone calls, and more. This also eliminates a mountain of paperwork and makes organizing data much less complicated. More people can do more work in a shorter amount of time.

Creating a network of employees working on mobile devices can also cut down on long checkout lines (especially during the holidays). The mobile Point of Sale (mPoS) is all about being ready the moment a customer agrees to make an in-store purchase and having an associate there to swipe the credit card. If that same customer walks to a long checkout line, they may decide not to wait. That’s a lost opportunity that’s likely to wind up somewhere online.

Shop owners can take some of those lost sales back by using mobile to capitalize on every possible sale.

The good old days we remember, when the Internet had yet become an e-commerce mecca and flashing banner ads were so bad they were good, are gone. To keep pace with all the sophisticated technology that keeps online shoppers coming back for more, brick-and-mortar retailers have no choice but to fire back with mobile.



10 Fitness Apps for the Year Ahead



In 2015, the top three New Year’s resolutions were: 1) lose weight, 2) get organized, and 3) save money. Losing weight may be a tired cliché as far as resolutions go, but in 2016 the apps available for people inspired to get fit are anything but ordinary. 

Here’s a breakdown of the best fitness apps available in 2016 to help get you on your feet and in the best shape of your life. 


1) Pact

Have you ever made a deal with a friend to motivate your workouts? That’s kind of how Pact works except it motivates you with your checking account. Make a financial promise (big or small) then make fitness goals and monitor food consumption. If you keep your promise, you can earn a small reward; if you don’t, Pact debits the money from your checking account. How’s that for some fitness motivation?


2) Spring

If you’re looking for a little Spring in your step, this free music app has got the beat for you. Using a beat per minute (BPM) calculator, you can pick a soundtrack that will get your target heart rate in the zone and your mind focused on your favorite music. 


3) ShopWell

Some of the most intense fitness training users of ShopWell do is in the grocery aisles. ShopWell allows users to generate a profile with specific nutritional goals. Using your phone, scan items at the store before purchasing to ensure you’re getting the best products to keep you on track. 


4) Argus

For people just beginning their fitness journey, few things are as satisfying as seeing progress in nifty charts and metrics. Argus is the ultimate tracking and analytics tool designed to count just about everything. From stairs and jogging to elevation and calories, it’s all here on this free app for iOS users. 


5) FitMo

Most people can’t afford a personal trainer, which is where FitMo comes in. Using all the wonderful technologies afforded by the Internet, you can video chat, send pictures, and text with a real personal trainer at a fraction of the cost. For about $40 a month, you’ll get the one-on-one attention you crave. Personal trainers help set meal plans, training routines, and more for users of iOS. 


6) MyFitnessPal

For an app that’s all-inclusive, MyFitnessPal has a little bit of everything to keep you motivated in 2016. This free app features a large index of foods in a nutrition database so you can record food intake and track progress. It also tracks activity levels and allows you to ask friends for help and motivation if you need it. 


7) Nike + Training Club 

If you’re not sure where to begin this year, the Nike +Training Club app is your starting line destination. Here you’ll discover dozens of workout plans crafted by expert trainers. This app has very useful training videos to ensure you’re doing the workout properly and safely. This app is also great for users at all levels of fitness and is available on both iOS and Android devices. 


8) WOD Deck Cards

For all you crazy Crossfit fans out there, nothing could be easier than drawing a card to select your workout of the day (WOD). With this free app, you can maximize your favorite workout routines from Crossfit in a fun deck of cards. Mix them up and draw cards until your thoroughly exhausted. 


9) Sworkit 

This is a great app for people who can’t ever seem to find the time to workout. Sworkit allows users to select a specific area of fitness (yoga, cardio, strength) to focus on, and delivers workouts that can take as little as five minutes or as long as one hour. This app is free and available to both iOS and Android users. 


10) Sleep Cycle

Waking up early for a morning workout is often harder to do than the workout itself. Sleep Cycle works by detecting your activity level during sleep and tracks your REM. Set a time to wake up and the app will wake you up when you’re at your lightest level of sleep so you won’t feel groggy. 

This year’s best fitness apps are all about focusing on individual goals and performance needs. Pick an app that works best for your lifestyle, and you’ll be sure to meet your fitness goals in 2016. 





Mobile Predictions for the Year Ahead



The New Year has finally arrived, and many are wondering what we can expect with regard to mobile. Plenty of industry experts have made predictions, including how mobile is set to override newspapers as the main news source. Let’s check out a few of these mobile predictions for 2016 and see if they don’t provide advice for your own business:  


The Voice of the Consumer

According to eMarketer, the voice of the consumer will be louder than ever in 2016. Smartphone use has increased inbound call numbers to businesses, as has voice-activated search. The number of smartwatches and connected home devices in use has also increased, and marketers must subsequently optimize speech-based searches this year, not just keyword-based searches. 


Internet Advertising Will Surpass Print Ads

Print ad spending will continue to decline this year, something it’s done since 2008. According to ZenithOptimedia, print ad spending will decrease by about 4.9% a year through 2017, while mobile Internet advertising’s share of the global ad market will increase “from 5.7% in 2014 to 15.0% in 2017.” 


Data Security: More Important Than Ever

Businesses of every size must pay greater attention to data security in the New Year, with an increase in cloud-based services resulting in a greater need for cybersecurity. This year has been called the “cloud generation” in regards to startups, and any major SaaS data breaches would have serious repercussions for small and medium-sized businesses that rely heavily, if not completely, on the cloud. 


Messaging Apps Mean Marketers Are Joining the Conversation

Facebook and WhatsApp are on a direct path to obtaining 1 billion monthly active users around the world, and this year Facebook will add more marketing options and services to businesses. Such offerings will likely be far from traditional based on what Facebook higher-ups have remarked about messaging app advertising. 


Mobile Payments Will Become the Norm

Mobile payments are likely to become standard in 2016, as an increasing number of retailers are accepting payments from systems such as Samsung Pay, Apple Pay, and Android Pay. Coupons, loyalty programs, and other rewards will fuel this shift, as changing decades of paying via cash and credit isn’t going to change overnight. 


Facebook=Entirely Mobile

Another prediction for 2016 is that Facebook will become an entirely mobile app. Q3 2015 saw the social media giant earning 78% of its $4.3 billion in ad revenue worldwide due to mobile, and it’s used in app form now more than ever. For example, in Q3 2015, 727 million of Facebook’s 1.55 billion MAUs were mobile-only, which is equal to 47% of users who have never used with Facebook via desktop computers. Compare that to the same period in 2014, where just 34% of users were mobile-only.


The Human Connection

Despite the many advances in mobile and other technologies, the human connection remains vital in terms of brand loyalty. This is regarded as the key to repeat business, and more and more brands will scramble to demonstrate that each visit/transaction with customers matters, and that said customers are “important beyond the sale.” 




MTN Rolls Out 4G LTE in Cameroon



It’s hard to imagine a world without wireless technology and connectivity—to do so would be like setting back our greatest achievements, limit our resources, and deter the proliferation of information we’ve come to expect from our online democratic space. But that’s exactly the kind of world many poor and underprivileged countries face despite vast improvements to the technologies at large. 

This year, however, we saw a few victories among those countries and regions that struggle the most. Cameroon, a central African country bordering the Atlantic, just received its first 4G LTE mobile network this month. MTN Cameroon, the country’s leading cell phone provider, announced the launch on Dec. 18 to more than 10 million subscribers. The potential for social and economic growth will help propel Cameroon into the 21st century. 

Currently, the 4G network is available in Yaounde, the capital, and highly populated regions Douala, Bamenda, and Buea. Among the country’s population of about 22.8 million, almost 50 percent are network subscribers. Aside from meeting international standards, the network was designed to work better than most existing 4G networks in other countries. 


Changing Cameroon for the Better 

The impact of this outstanding improvement will affect both this generation and generations to come.

“By launching the next generation 4G LTE technology,” said Philisiwe Sibiya, CEO of MTN Cameroon, “we are not only investing in a network. We are also, and most especially, investing in the Cameroonian people.”

Earlier this year, and after the government of Cameroon approved its license, MTN Cameroon deployed a 3G network. Eight months later, MTN launched the 4G LTE network for an estimated 60 billion. Cameroon is one of a few countries to develop both networks in such rapid succession—a sure sign of the countries’ eagerness to participate in global commerce and communication. 

“The 4G of MTN Cameroon is an evolution,” said Linda Kouam, MTN’s chief marketing officer. “Cameroon’s economic growth will change.”


Sharing Cameroonian Culture 

Cameroon has made headlines in the past for its well-known football (soccer) team, which has won four African Cup of Nations titles, a gold medal in the 2000 Olympics, as well as spurred attention during the 1990 FIFA World Cup

Cameroon is also well known for its geographic and cultural diversity—there are some 200 different linguistic groups represented. 

In addition to spreading the unique Cameroonian culture, the technology means citizens can now gain access to education, healthcare, sanitation, and other programs or services they once lacked. 



Samsung Says No to 4K (at least until 5G)



In the competitive world of mobile technology, new and improved almost always trumps old and efficient. Phones got smaller, and then the screens got bigger—it’s not always about change in a particular direction, just that change is good for business, and typically better for the end user. But when it comes to screen size and resolution, could there be an end in sight? 

When Sony introduced the Xperia Z5 Premium smartphone, the crown jewel of the device was the exclusive use of 4K—about double the resolution of most popular 2K resolution phones currently on the market. Sony is the first major manufacturer to include 4K on its device and many critics assumed other brands would follow suit in the coming year. This, however, may not be the case. 

A 4K smartphone uses the same advanced tech we see on many high-end, HD televisions—and those, as you know, don’t come cheap. But the economic side of this coin isn’t what may have turned off two of the largest smartphone manufactures in the game: Korean-based Samsung and LG. 

Rumor has it both Samsung and LG will forego 4K on all its new models in 2016. The source of this information is inconclusive, particularly because tech writers are scrambling to translate this Hangul news source—which doesn’t exactly translate word-for-word.  

But the gist of it goes something like this: Samsung and LG see no reason to move prematurely forward with 4K despite their Japanese competitor’s latest gadget. They fear the extra resolution may actual hinder other aspects of the phone they have been working to press forward on—specifically the battery life. 

Another reason Samsung and LG may steer clear of 4K is because presumably most content for 4K won’t be deliverable until the 5G network comes to pass. Also, some argue the boost in resolution from 4K wouldn’t even be visible to the naked eye, let alone on a 5x5-inch smartphone screen. 

The bottom line, Samsung and LG are playing it safe by not jumping on the upgrade bandwagon, and following what may have been an over-zealous attempt by Sony to get noticed in the smartphone arena. 

Some consumers will nab the Xperia Z5 just on tech principle, but others won’t be missing much—at least, not anything they can see. 

So don’t get down that your next Samsung or LG phone might not have the latest and greatest screen resolution next year. What you can’t see, in this case, surely can’t hurt you. 


7 Mobile Trends to Look Out for in 2016



The current decade is shaping up to go down in history as an era dominated by mobile technology. In terms of web access, mobile usage overtook desktop last year, and mobile marketing is no longer an optional extra - it’s front and center of any successful marketing strategy. These are exciting times for developers, small businesses and consumers. Mobile technology has leveled the playing field for all of them. 

So what next for mobile? We’ve identified seven trends expected to define mobile in 2016, and beyond…


1) SMB App Marketing

Thus far, small businesses have confined their mobile marketing efforts to text messaging and mobile-friendly website design. Developing an app has been viewed as a costly luxury, the preserve of big brands with deep pockets. That’s beginning to change, as a proliferation of software developers drive costs down, putting branded apps within reach of even the smallest startup. Apps will become the weapon of choice for marketers seeking to build loyalty, promote products and services and manage billing and payments. Functionality is improving all the time, with indoor maps and geo-location technology bringing ever-greater value to the customer.


2) Mobile Payments

Considering the overwhelming convenience provided by mobile wallets, they’ve been relatively slow to take off in the way that some predicted. To be sure, people aren’t going to cease spending hard cash in brick and mortar stores any time soon. But the gap between physical and digital commerce will be shortened during 2016, as mobile wallet facilities become standard native features on new smartphones, and more retailers accept payments from providers like Android Pay and Apple Pay.


3) Voice-activated Search

Much like mobile payments, you might have expected voice search to have progressed further by now. But Siri, Google Voice et al are only just getting to the point where you don’t have to repeat your request three times before typing it in anyway. The virtual personal assistant is no longer a joke. Furthermore, more people are talking to a wider variety of devices from a greater range of locations than ever before, as smart watches and various home devices ally with better coverage to make connectivity an anytime/anywhere prospect. All that needs to happen now is for marketers to optimize content for speech-based (rather than keyword) queries. It’ll be a long road, but 2016 will see major advances being made.


4) Geo-targeting

Tracking customers locations is on the rise. More people are allowing companies to know where they are and when - information they gladly offer in return for a good deal. According to one study, beacon technology will be adopted by 85% of top retailers by the end of next year, and have a direct influence on retail sales worth more than $4 billion. Like some of the other innovations we’ve looked at, geo-location has been around for a few years, but is only just beginning to gain widespread trust among consumers. 


5) Mobile Facebook

Until recently, there was huge skepticism surrounding Facebook as a mobile force. By this time last year, 78% of their $4.3 billion ad revenues was coming from mobile, and almost half of users had never interacted with Facebook on a desktop. Compare that to the same period in 2014, when just over a third of users were mobile-only and you start to see how safe a prediction it is to forecast a very bright near-future for Facebook and mobile.


6) Mobile to Overtake Print

For all the buzz in Marketingland about digital media, print adpsend is actually still higher than mobile - but not for much longer. In terminal decline since 2008, newspaper adspend will continue its downward spiral in 2016 and be overtaken by mobile. Mobile advertising is expected to have contributed 83% of all new ad dollars between 2014 and 2017.


7) ‘Customer Journey’ Marketing

Improved integration between all the technologies discussed here will see marketers getting serious about creating targeted, hyper-relevant campaigns capable of communicating with customers across the digital and physical realms.


Capitalize on the Shopping Season with your Mobile Marketing Campaign



According to Adobe, 26 percent of the $3.07 billion spent on Cyber Monday involved purchases made via mobile. What’s more, 37 percent of the $1.7 billon in Thanksgiving sale purchases were also made via smartphone. While these numbers are certainly impressive on their own, the general growth of mobile success throughout the year foreshadows even greater success for mobile marketing in 2016. 


Significant Statistics  

According to a report by Yes Lifecycle Marketing, mobile revenue increased almost 10 percent year over year in Q3. What’s more, the average revenue generated by iPhones increased by 46 percent year over year. 

And we’re just getting warmed up. Mobile accounted for 34 percent of Black Friday sales and drove an additional 53 percent of indoor shopping visits. 

Another significant report from IBM explains that online Black Friday sales increased by almost 15 percent this year compared to last.

The holidays are a great time to reinvent holiday marketing themes to push sales in the final quarter of the year. But that’s not the only time marketers or business owners should be thinking mobile. 

The reason so many reports have covered the growth of mobile is that this marketing trend has yet to reach its tipping point. The takeaway from 2015 is significant in that holiday mobile marketing is really just the tip of the iceberg. 


Mobile First in 2016 

Mobile marketing should become more integrated into every marketing endeavor, and not limited to seasonal or annual sales. Truth be told, it’s hard to predict the purchasing power of mobile just yet; but as more and more shoppers enter the web via mobile, businesses of every variety will have to realign their online shopping experiences to meet the needs of on-the-go consumers. 

This is why it’s so important to think mobile first in the beginning part of 2016. By focusing on the mobile experience consumers face searching or browsing for your company’s products or services, you can identify the areas that are performing smoothly and others that are leading customers astray. 

Mobile first is about a lot more than holiday shopping trends. It’s about rethinking the entire shopping experiences, including researching similar products, managing customer reviews, and communicating dynamic messages across multi channel campaigns. 

Black Friday and Cyber Monday may be over, but the general tone of mobile has been steadfast this year despite the season or celebration. According to several reports, next year will be an even bigger year for mobile; companies of all sizes should pay attention, less they get lost in the shuffle.