Thursday, October 16, 2008

Social Media is Placeless: The Device Doesn't Matter

ReadWriteWeb shares an interesting report about how cell phone users are interacting with Social Media via their phones. The study, conducted by ABI Research, found that "nearly half (46%) of those who use social networks have also visited a social network through a mobile phone. Of these, nearly 70% have visited MySpace and another 67% had visited Facebook. No other social networking site reached 15% adoption mobile adoption."

The study concludes that, "consumers do not want to recreate entirely new and separate social networks for mobile, but rather want to tap into their existing social network and have it go with them via the mobile phone." This would seem intuitively obvious--why would consumers want to create duplicate lists of friends, manage duplicate profiles, and update multiple social sites based on whether they are sitting at a PC or using their mobile device?

Of course, there are reasons that consumers may desire different profiles and friends on different sites or services, but they have nothing to do with the device used or the manner in which the data is maintained. Instead, much like we all do in the real world, consumers may want to be different people to different audiences. You might be, for example, buttoned down at work (LinkedIn), loose and casual with friends (Facebook), and downright nerdy and enthusiastic when hanging with hobbyists who share your passion (at, for example, Disney Boards, Star Wars Forums, or a Scrapbooking network).

It really should come as no surprise that consumers aren't interested in separate mobile-only networks. Their need to connect with friends doesn't end when consumers shut down their PCs; if anything, the need to stay connected is greater when people are away from their computers and out in the world. These are the times people wish to report where they are (Brightkite and Loopt), learn about others' ratings and perceptions of restaurants (Yelp), share photos of funny and unique occurrences with their mobile cameras (Twitpic and Yahoo Flickr Mobile), and broadcast updates about their experiences (Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace).

The study's finding reinforces an important attribute of successful Social Media: It is placeless. As the power and features on mobile devices continue to improve and as more consumers adopt mobile services such as the wireless Web, Internet-connected mobile applications, GPS, SMS, and broadband speeds, we will see consumers begin to erase the lines between their real and virtual networks.

If you're planning Social Media tactics, ask yourself where consumers may be most interested in sharing, listening, or collaborating with other consumers. If you're a CPG company and your Social Media campaign extends only as far as a computer keyboard, what will this do for consumers when they're at the supermarket? If you're an alcoholic beverage brand and your Social Media plan requires a PC, how will this enhance the consumer's experience at a club late on Saturday night?

If you think it's farfetched consumers will whip out their cell phones in the soft drink aisle or while ordering a beer, you may be limiting your thinking in one or both of two ways. First of all, it may be that you underestimate the rapid advances that are occurring in cell phone technology or their adoption by consumers; for example, in the past year the number of U.S. subscribers with 3G devices has grown 80 percent.

The second and more important reason a marketer may not see a compelling need for a mobile Social Media program is that they just haven't hit upon the right idea. Too many marketers hear the word "mobile" and immediately think advertising. Instead, as Adam Brown, director of digital communications for Coca-Cola recently pointed out in a MediaPost article, "the proliferation of mobile devices will 'change the whole chemistry' of social media by providing Coke and other marketers with a 'brand in the hand' to reach consumers at the right time with the right message."

With a focus on value-added marketing to consumers (listening to and engaging versus talking to customers) and consideration for where and when consumers will want to engage (on both the second and third screens), Social Media can become placeless and very, very powerful for marketers.

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