What a multi-screen world we live in! We might watch a basketball game or shop online with our smartphones while checking our email or playing a game on our tablets. Not only are people moving between multiple screens on smartphones, tablets, computers and television, but we are also using multiple screens simultaneously to accomplish tasks. These actions describe the two types of multi-screen user behavior: sequential screening and simultaneous screening.
Users that accomplish tasks by moving between devices at different times are using a sequential screening method. In fact, we are extremely efficient at moving between devices regularly. According to a recent Google study, 90% of people with multiple devices use sequential screening methods and 98% of those users were able to accomplish their task in less than 24 hours. Google also found that smartphones are the most common starting point for online activities including searching for information, shopping online, and social media while people that started with a PC were performing more complex activities like planning a trip or managing finances.
People with multiple devices also use them simultaneously. We spend the most time multi-screening in front of the television or when using a tablet. The most common activity during simultaneous screening was emailing, followed by Internet browsing and social media. People multi-task while performing activities that are unrelated such as playing Angry Birds while watching a basketball game. People also multi-task between devices in a complementary way, such as searching Airbnb on a smartphone while planning a trip on their PC. The same Google study found that 22% of simultaneous screening was a complementary usage. This leaves the majority of people that multi-task in unrelated ways, which has led to some interesting feedback on personal behavior.
The study found that people are frustrated at their own inability to avoid simultaneous screening while engaging content that they find interesting. One user in the Google study added, “I’ve never understood why I do it, but I just do it in the middle of a TV show, and start searching… It’s frustrating that I do it though, because you feel like you don’t stay as engaged with the show that you’re watching.” It is interesting how quickly people have not only picked up the skill of moving efficiently between devices, but have engrained this activity into their subconscious that cues this behavior without a trigger.
Multi-screening has had a big impact on the marketing world. One of the subtler challenges that digital marketers face is tracking user behavior between separate devices. One ramification of sequential screening is that websites absolutely must have the ability for users to save progress, especially for e-commerce. When progress is not able to be saved, then people rely on search to pick up where they left off, which makes it crucial that brands are showing up in search for common phrases related to their brand, product, or industry. Organizations should also not limit themselves to calls to action with respect to just one device, since it is very likely that the person engaging content on one device may also be using another device at the same time.
Overall, businesses need to understand that people are using multiple devices in different, yet connected ways. Tailoring content for each specific device while lowering the barrier to inter-device usage will maintain a brand experience that is friendly to multi-screen users.