With the ability to integrate Facebook and Twitter with just about everything, are social networks poised to be the next giant in the mobile space?
People are more active on social networks from their mobile phones than they are from their computers. A recent study by Nielsen shows that more people are using social networking applications on their smartphones than are using sports apps, shopping apps, music apps, or a long list of other types of apps. The only mobile apps that are more popular than social networking apps are games, news, and navigation. But that brings up an interesting point: social networks offer games, news, and in some cases even maps and navigation. With the ability to integrate Facebook and Twitter with just about everything, are social networks poised to be the next giant in the mobile space?
But that brings up a whole new set of questions. Why apps? The Facebook and Twitter apps are good, but they are still not as robust as their traditional Web counterparts. How will semi-mobile technology like the iPad change things? Will the integration of HTML 5, better mobile network connectivity, and cheaper "all-you-can-eat" data plans obviate the need to download apps, and eventually push us all back to accessing our social networks directly from the Web, even when we are mobile?
I think so.
If you haven't upgraded your phone in a while or don't watch any TV at all, you might not realize that integration with social networking has become the top selling point for lots of mobile phones. Handsets on all U.S. carriers can now seamlessly (seriously, it is pretty seamless) associate Facebook and Twitter profile pictures with the contacts in your address book, so when your phone rings, the caller's Facebook profile picture shows on the screen.
Mobile phones are probably the most personal Web-enabled piece of technology any of us will ever own. Unlike computers, they are almost never shared or available for public scrutiny. They are with us wherever we go, and they are super customizable. The little devices actually interact with the Web in a much more robust way than laptops and PCs, seamlessly uploading photos, videos, audio, and even geo-location. Lots of the Web stuff you do on your phone would be much harder on a traditional computer.
The personal, portable nature of the phone makes integration of a mobile strategy with your social strategy that much more important. Social is important and mobile is important, and the stinging reality is that top brands will need to do both at the same time.
Lots of mobile social networking happens on sophisticated smartphones, but some social networks like Twitter and Foursquare rely partially on SMS integration (text messaging). With these, updates are sent to the social network in a short, 140-character text from the phone. This type of functionality makes lots of sense, because SMS is the only thing (other than calling) that's standard on all mobile phones. You might not realize it, but Facebook and MySpace are SMS-enabled too, allowing subscribers to text in their updates, their check-ins, add friends, and become a fan or "like" something all via text.
Short codes for social networks:
The other big social networks like YouTube, Flickr, Bebo, and Gowalla rely on downloadable applications and mobile-Web interfaces to let people send updates - especially picture, video, and GPS updates directly from their phone. What is interesting is that many of the social networks have begun cross-integration, which makes mobile interaction easier, because you can simply interact on one social network (whichever one works best on your phone), and the update populates across whichever other social networks you choose.
Now that lots of people have GPS-enabled smartphones, lots of us are adding geo-location to our social interaction. GPS and assisted GPS are working with mobile applications and even mobile browsers to let our friends know exactly where we are, and in some cases, how often we go there. If it hasn't occurred to you yet, please note that this is a function that your laptop and desktop would both have difficulty doing - this is a mobile-specific behavior.
Unsurprisingly, lots of social networks have jumped on to this bandwagon, possibly because it is fraught with awesome possibilities for the social networks to sell advertising and make money without being hugely disruptive or intrusive; monetization of mobile social networking will be a huge driving force in the marketing of the future. Facebook has never monetized its mobile traffic (notice the lack of ads on your phone?), but just announced that it will integrate a check-in feature, so it's hard to believe that Facebook will not find some way to use that to turn a profit.
The social networks are actually already working with local retailers to promote their social profiles, and encourage social interaction. In some cases, it's simply a sticker or a sign that encourages people to like them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, or check in on Foursquare, but in other cases, it's even more sophisticated. Native handset features like NFC, RFID, and QR code readers are also being integrated into the offline calls to action, actually making our digital marketing more trackable.
Wait a minute - this isn't search!
The important takeaway is that you can make existing social profiles work harder for you if you start thinking about mobile users. Mobile social profiles can reach the mobile audience that your existing website and SEO strategy might be missing if you don't have a mobile strategy for your website yet.
Beyond that, the social profiles that you create for your traditional online marketing campaigns can actually rank in mobile results too. Twitter profiles tend to rank really well in mobile searches, as do LinkedIn pages, Foursquare pages, and YouTube videos. Facebook pages rank, but not always as well as they do on the traditional computer.
OK, fine! What do I do?
Promote social interaction to people when they're not at their computer - you, know, when they're "mobile." If you have brick-and-mortar locations, be sure that you mention your social profiles in your in-store marketing. Facebook, Foursquare, and Twitter are all testing the use of stickers to help business let their customers know where they can be found online. Remember that people will probably be responding to these prompts from their mobile phone, so make it easy on them: Include text-message prompts that people can send to interact with your brand from their mobile phones.
Also, promote mobile interaction to people when they're at their computer. Let them know that you are hip to the mobile world, and there are benefits to people who engage with you while they are out and about. You can do this by including SMS prompts on your Facebook fan page, letting people sign up for special deals or alerts. You can also include SMS prompts in your tweets, or simply use Twitter like a mobile alert system, sending out promotion codes and links to mobile coupons.
In sum, when you are thinking social, think mobile too - all the cool kids are doing it.
This column was originally published in SES Magazine.
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Cindy Krum is passionate about bringing creative online marketing solutions to Rank-Mobile clients, working with them to develop high-level mobile and international marketing strategies. Cindy speaks at national and international trade events about mobile Web marketing, social network marketing, and international SEO. She writes for industry publications and has been quoted in PC World, Internet Retailer, and Search Marketing Standard. She served as the co-chair of the SEMPO emerging technologies mobile Web task force and is an active member of the search community. Follow Cindy on Twitter at @suzzicks.
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