Column: Walla Walla more plugged in than you think

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It’s no secret the world is changing at an ever increasing pace. What has changed the past few years is that more rural and isolated towns like Walla Walla are no longer behind the curve with technology but actually tracking at or in some cases even above national trends.

We recently conducted surveys in the market of adults and businesses and there were many noteworthy findings. Some of these stats might surprise you.

Among adults surveyed:

  • 97 percent own a cellphone of which 69 percent are smartphones (nationwide, Pew researchers say the numbers stand at 90 percent and 58 percent, respectively)
  • 37 percent live in a cellphone-only household
  • 46 percent own a tablet (comparing to 42 percent nationwide)
  • 47 percent subscribe to Netfix
  • 45 percent use Pandora or another online music service
  • 77 percent are on Twitter or Facebook
  • Among businesses surveyed:
  • 82 percent maintain a website
  • 80 percent are on social media
  • 50 percent are using email marketing/promotion

At the Union-Bulletin we are paying close attention to all of these trends, but perhaps most closely tracking the emergence of mobile (phones and tablets) as that is increasingly where the future is headed.

The threshold of 50 percent smartphones was passed several years back and it’s clear regular cellphones won’t even be made soon.

Tablets too are becoming a must-have item.

Amazon’s recent move into phones should be a further wake-up to all of us (it has a pretty good track record of staying ahead of trends).

Some national statistics from Pew are downright scary, but show what I am talking about.

67 percent of cellphone owners find themselves checking their phone for messages, alerts, or calls — even when they don’t notice their phone ringing or vibrating.

44 percent of cellphone owners have slept with their phone next to their bed because they wanted to make sure they didn’t miss any calls, text messages, or other updates during the night.

The good news for the Union-Bulletin related to the survey is our print audience has stayed loyal, and our audience online (including mobile) continues to grow at a rapid pace.

We optimized our website for mobile two years ago knowing this trend was happening. We also regularly engage with our readers via social media such as Facebook (10,000 fans) and Twitter (2,000 users), both of which increasingly are accessed on mobile devices.

As a result, traffic on Union-Bulletin.com from mobile devices has exploded to 33 percent of our total visits.

We’ve come to realize that increasingly people want to be informed about what is happening locally when, where and how they want it. That means we need to reach readers on their terms whether that be print, digital, mobile or social media and we are committed to doing that now and into the future.

Keeping ahead of the changes with technology can be enough to make your head spin, but if you want to thrive in today’s hypercompetitive business environment it is critical.

Finally, on a personal note I would like to thank the community for a wonderful six years as I move on to a new role within our company out of the area.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to lead the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, working with so many wonderful colleagues, community leaders, advertisers, readers and organizations.

There is no question Walla Walla will continue to hold an important place in my life and we are committed to finding the right leader to take the U-B into the future.

Rob Blethen can be reached at robblethen@wwub.com or 526-8331.

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