By Viktor Marohnic, CEO, Shoutem.
The benefits of social networking as a marketing tool are being transferred to the mobile world.
Indeed, anecdotally we have heard from early adopters of our own mobile social network platform that they are finding more and more ‘traffic’ to their sites being from mobile devices, particularly for real-time and location-based groups, such as sports events.
Morever, the latest ‘white label’ tools make it simple to create private ‘own brand’ networks quickly and easily, without needing large investment or programming skills, and thus circumnavigating the need to use ‘public’ social networks.
It’s a bit like deciding to build a swimming pool in your back yard and inviting only friends and family you’d like to share it with, as opposed to meeting them at public swimming pools which are open to everyone and lack privacy.
Private social networks also mean that users can have control over ‘look and feel’ and who has access to the site, which is appealing for many niche groups.
However, regardless of how good the tools, there are some good basic practices and principles to follow when creating a mobile social network.
Much of this is common sense and an extension of basic good marketing practices, whereas some of my advice is about making the most of the new opportunities that mobile and social networking technology developments have made possible.
Here are five things I recommend considering when you are starting out on your mobile social network project:
1. Make it easy
Accessing a mobile social network should not be a difficult or convoluted experience, so make sure that the platform you are using is optimised to support, for instance, iPhone, Blackberry and iPhone.
In other words, rather than expecting the user to go to the mobile Internet to access the site, they should be able to download an application straight to their mobile device, eg from iPhone Appstore. This will improve the user experience and encourage usage.
Similarly the user interface should be completely intuitive and easy. It may sound obvious, but it is not always the case. Users don’t want to spend time learning how to use the site – they should be able to navigate their way around and use the features straight away.
2. Who’s who
The beauty of social networking is that people intuitively trust friends and known contacts more than they do mainstream promotion from vendors, however well targeted or crafted. So make the most of this: identify a group of early adopters or ‘champions’ who will help to quickly populate the site and be interactive.
You may know these people already, or you may find them commenting on your organisation or related topics on public social networks. Think about giving them incentives: for instance, the more active they are on the network, or the more users they help recruit, reward them with invitations to events. Have a ‘user of the week’. Stage competitions. Be creative!
3. DIY tools
The beauty of mobile social networking is that it integrates very well with the existing mobile experience: users already use their phones to take photos, for example, so make sure that it is easy for them to upload their images to the site, from their mobile device.
Also, ensure that the platform you are using encourages them to be interactive: tools for uploading images, for instance, should be obvious. A lively dialogue between users is the lifeblood of a good social network site.
And be sure that the performance of the platform provider matches your users’ expectations: although some mobile networks still have ‘patchy’ coverage, consumers have become very used to reliable, high quality mobile communications and this extends beyond voice and email to other applications.
So, real-time should mean real-time, although of course it is not easy to control the performance of the mobile telecom network.
4. Location, location, location
Location-based services are predicted to be one of the fastest growing areas of mobile communications and the latest mobile social networks tools enable you to tap into this rich seam of possibility. For instance, Shoutem customer Houssain Yahfoufi, founder of NFL Shouts reports, ““We’ve seen that the most traffic on NFL Shouts is during football games, so people can connect with each other at the ground. We call it ‘Watch N’ Shout’ and users can even “shout” pictures from the game.”
5. Show me the money
If the network needs to be self-supporting, think about your monetization strategy early on, though at first, you may need to underwrite the entire cost. But looking ahead, a sports mobile social network could target sports clothing brands, charge for premium content and even tie up with the social network platform provider to make extra applications available for a small charge.
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