Connectedness: Are You Addicted?

Over the past couple weeks, I seemed to have suffered from a new addiction. I didn’t realize its extent until this past holiday weekend when I was transported back in time to what can only be described as the sister lodge to Kellerman’s (the lakeside lodge made famous in “Dirty Dancing”). It was the first time in a while that I’d spent Thanksgiving outside the city and without friends or my extended family. I only survived by having my BlackBerry constantly in hand. Upon my return to the bustling land of yellow taxis and city buses, I realized I hadn’t actually missed anything.

I took the first step on the road to recovery by admitting I’m addicted to the connectedness social networks provide.

Sound familiar?

While I was slow to jump on the social-networking bandwagon, I succumbed to old-fashioned peer pressure a few weeks ago when I set up my first profile page on a popular site. I was quickly enthralled with a world that was the exact opposite of what I expected. Turns out, the site wasn’t just for teens and college kids; better yet, it was a world I could access with frequency and ease by simply downloading a mobile application onto my BlackBerry.

Though I found myself in the middle of nowhere over the holiday weekend, I had no trouble getting a wireless signal and finding out who had safely arrived home by train, plane, or automobile; who was entertaining the in-laws and sneaking drinks in the kitchen; who was taken to the hospital after a rather unfortunate run-in with a live turkey (no joke); and, most important, who would be back in the city in time to catch the Saturday night college football games. While these simple status updates didn’t replace the physical gatherings of years past, they provided a comic relief and a better sense of how others were spending time with family and friends. And it seems as if others might have been interacting with mobile technology and social networks in much the same way.

According to a late-summer release from M:Metrics, more than 7.5 million Americans are part of the mobile social networking audience. That means 3.5 percent of U.S. mobile subscribers access a social networking site via their mobile device. These stats are now six months old, and you can bet the audience is even larger today. It’s an audience that accesses sites through on-deck carrier distribution agreements, downloadable device-specific applications, and off-deck WAP (define) access (most likely via bookmarks). But as marketers, we know that nearly half of mobile consumers in the U.S. don’t access the Web via mobile devices.

Here’s another thought: while I was willing to admit that I was a latecomer to the social networking party, I may be able to maintain my early tech adopter status. If just 3.5 percent of mobile consumers in the U.S. access social networking sites and blogs via mobile, there’s room for tremendous growth in the marketplace.

It’s said that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, but the fact remains that not many people today use the mobile Web. Advertising within online social networking sites is currently a hot topic that’s causing debate even among those who hold the most liberal views of how and what advertising can constitute.

On a technical note, the U.S. mobile marketplace continues to suffer from a lack of widespread flat-rate data packages. Plus, many everyday consumers find it difficult to navigate the off-deck mobile environment. That’s why seamlessly translating Web behaviors like social networking to mobile behaviors becomes so important when we consider the activities and feature sets that will get more mobile consumers using their devices. Connecting a person to a social network profile via mobile begins by connecting that person to the mobile Web, an addiction I wish more consumers had.

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