By KF Lai, CEO of BuzzCity.
There is a growing trend in the social networking space – going mobile. More and more companies with a solid internet foundation are expanding into the mobile sphere. Companies including Google, Yahoo and Facebook all have designs on mobile social networking and the trend is continuing to grow.
This in turn provides companies with an opportunity to start interacting with consumers through the mobile device. However, communicating through a mobile network is very different from communicating through a traditional online network and in order to make the best use of this growing medium, companies cannot simply transfer their online strategies to mobile.
The consumers are different, their needs are different and in turn their demands from companies are also different.
As well as running a mobile ad network, at BuzzCity we also run a mobile centric community, mygamma, which currently has four million members globally. We regularly carry out surveys across this community to find out information about the type of people accessing the network, what they use it for and how they would like to see companies interact with them through it.
The following information and suggestions have been compiled based directly on their feedback; so if you don’t take our word for it, at least take theirs.
People who use mobile phones for social networking are not necessarily the same people who use the internet for social networking. The demographic is markedly different. Users of mobile social networks generally have aspirations, beliefs and values that are all very different from a PC user. This is often because the circumstances in which a user would access a networking site on a mobile are very different to accessing a site using a PC.
In some countries, this is because of infrastructure: access to computers and broadband can be very expensive and often mobile phones are relatively cheap. Mobile internet users who don’t have access to a PC, or are in a country where broadband is non-existent, are more likely to use a mobile for their social networking needs.
Some users in this position may not have an email account so using a mobile for this type of “electronic” communication is essential. Mobile networks are growing exponentially, linking huge numbers of people in countries like China, India and South Africa like never before. The opportunity for brands to interact directly with a global audience has perhaps never been as great as it is today.
Even in places like the US and UK, where high-speed broadband is available and penetration is high, we find that the people who prefer mobile networking are individuals who don’t use computers a lot - maybe they work on their feet or are always on the move.
There is of course a niche population in these countries who have access to smartphones and who regularly access social networks both on their PCs and on their mobiles – often using them interchangeably throughout the working day. However, it is important to remember that such technologically savvy users are still a very small group and communicating with them may well have different rules than the mass users of mobile specific communities. The launch of the TwitterPeek handset is a good example of how companies are trying to open up mobile social communities to users beyond the smartphone demographic.
Infrastructure issues often affect who companies are engaging with via mobile, but the question of functionality address the question of how. Social networking using sites like Facebook or MySpace is just not the same experience on a mobile.
There is a different user interface and different formatting of content for the smaller screen. Download times vary and the types of things a user would want to do on, for example, a moblog is very different to that of a blogger on a PC. Therefore the presentation of data and content on a mobile screen demands a different appeal for users of social networks.
A recent survey we conducted in early 2009, also provided us with some interesting insight on what users of mobile social networks, and indeed the mobile internet in general, want from companies.
Our research shows that often, regardless of the income of the mobile users, they will have disposable income to spend and top on the list of things to buy included electronic and virtual goods. They also stated that they would like to be able to do more with their mobile device than simply communicate – there is a growing demand to be able to conduct transactions online.
If brands can develop a straight forward m-commerce route to purchase, they will have tapped into a currently widely overlooked consumer base. At present businesses seem to be either not providing these services in the markets surveyed or they're doing a poor job of publicising them.
Some of the capabilities mobile consumers expressed a desire for companies to provide included the ability to purchase and transfer airtime minutes, purchase online games, pay café and restaurant bills, buy transport tickets and also tickets to movies and other entertainment events.
By developing an understanding of the needs and desires of users on mobile social networking sites, brands can communicate with them in a way that will add value to their lives and provide them with the goods and services that they are demanding. Mobile consumers have money to spend and it is up to brands to provide them with a reason, and an opportunity, to spend it.
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