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The Second Screen

April 19, 2014

By Vani Oza

By now, many of you have heard about second screen experiences and even may have considered them to connect with your consumers in new ways. There are a variety of definitions for second screens; although for the sake of this column, I will define a second screen as any companion device that acts alongside a primary device.

Many think a second screen is always a smartphone and a television, but I would argue that with the increase in mobile adoption and the growing number of total devices per person, second screens can apply to any combination of digital devices, including TVs, computers, smartphones and tablet devices. In fact, most recently, I had a conversation about building a second screen experience on a tablet device while projecting a PowerPoint presentation.

Opportunities for Second Screens
The concept of using second screens isn’t new, but recently changing technology habits have increased multi-tasking tendencies, creating new opportunities. According to Nielsen’s “The U.S. Digital Consumer Report,” Americans now own an average of four digital devices and spend an average of 60 hours a week consuming content on their devices. The report goes on to say that 84 percent of smartphone and tablet owners use their devices as second screens while watching TV.

Because of this, the opportunity to build deeper secondary experiences has grown, increasing the potential of longer lasting and more engaging brand messaging. As advertisers, this is the basic goal of any project. The potential to captivate an audience beyond its initial engagement with a primary screen is limitless, and I am convinced that advertisers will further explore this space in the coming years. Some have even gone as far as using billboards to push users to secondary experiences.

In order of frequency, Nielsen ranked the most popular second screen activities during TV usage as surfing the Web, shopping, checking sports scores, looking up secondary information (actors, plotlines, etc.) and emailing/texting friends regarding a program. These activities can be dialed-up, transforming a passive activity to interactive or social, thus lengthening the period of influence.

The majority of second screen experiences can be categorized as the following:

• Social Sharing: This activity is intended to share what is being consumed across personal or social networks.

• Games and Interactive Content: This activity is intended to add a gamification or interactive layer onto a program.

• Expanded Content: This activity is intended to build-out content shown on the primary screen with the intention of providing new or unique content not displayed in the primary screen.

Second Screen Approaches
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to designing second screen experiences—this really should align with your project’s business goals and objectives. However, there are a number of best practices to consider when designing these types of experiences:

1. Don’t forget your place: You’re designing for a second screen—not a primary screen. Your intention should not be to replace a primary screen; but rather, your goal should be to extend the primary experience. You should aim to understand how your users interact with the primary screen and how they use their downtime in order to design experiences that enhance the primary screen, not overtake it.

2. Match the habits of your users: Understand the situations in which your users will interact with your secondary screen. There is a level of discovery required here. But in the end, this investment really pays off. Knowing you users’ habits, the environment from which they engage with your primary screen and the additional information that is valuable to them is critical to designing successful experiences, but also to driving users to engage in the first place. The other learning you will find during your research is that you should not expect the user’s full attention.

3. Consider what you can offer that’s unique: There needs to be a strong value proposition when requesting additional engagement from a user. Again, this varies based on the goals of the primary screen, but try to see what you can offer that makes a user want to engage with you. Your experience shouldn’t feel like the second screen was tacked on as an afterthought.

4. Know how to combine forces: There are a number of vendors and services that cater to creating or enhancing second screen experiences. See if there is something out there that meets your needs rather than rebuilding the wheel. Try to avoid fragmentation as much as possible—users typically don’t want to learn another tool or download another app. Along the same lines, see how you can ride the wave of what others are doing. Some of the most notable social campaigns during large advertising events, such as the Super Bowl or Olympics earlier this year, were brands that rode the wave of other hashtags from the official broadcast advertisers. Think smart about how to incorporate this into your second screen experience.

5. Don’t just feed user’s content—let them drive their experiences: We are in 2014 and the industry is obsessed with user-centered design (finally!). Providing the opportunity for users to drive their experiences, as well as the content presented, will set your experience apart.

As we all gain more experience in designing these interactions, this list will grow as we learn from each other and as technology advances.

Here are three takeaways to get you to started thinking about designing second screen experiences:

• Don’t limit yourself to thinking about second screens as just TVs and smartphones.

• Don’t skip the research. Understanding your audience and its environment will help you make smart design decisions and get a greater ROI.

• Don’t leave metrics as an afterthought. Make sure analytics is a requirement from Day 1 so you can truly understand how users are interacting with your experience and make well-informed decisions, going forward.