The Next Turf

VoicenData Bureau
New Update

Post, blog, comment, tag, scrap, tweet, etc, have become

common vocabulary among the youth today. Social networking is the latest bug

that has bitten the youth in India, and even the elderly have caught up with the

trend. Any brand which aims to engage, interact with the youth, and attract

maximum brand traction cannot afford to exclude social media from their media

marketing plan.


Another Big Opportunity

With ever plunging ARPUs and a tough challenge in retaining existing

customers, mobile operators are scouting for different ways to remain

profitable. So what is the next step to uproot customer churn and increase ARPUs?

The solution lies in innovative value added services that will keep customers

and involve them with the brand at a greater level.

Engaging or involving users on operator platform can prove

to be the right plug, in this space, to address some of the issues faced by

mobile operators. Mobile social networking can be described as a platform for

communication between individuals sharing common interests and concerns, for

easy interaction to keep oneself updated and connected to the outside world

through mobile phones. It has the potential to become one of the most vibrant

and popular forms of networking media among the youth. By 2012, it is expected

that there will be around 428 mn users of mobile social networking globally,

generating 19.7 bn. India is not far behind in catching up on this global

phenomenon, and it has grown by 50% in India in the last year.

Mobile social networking is not limited to accessing the

mobile version of web 2.0 social network provider on one's handset, but it

provides networking websites using one's cellphone or PDA. Development of a

mobile social networking site specially designed and dedicated for mobile phones

is the next level of this trend. This is the potential tool that operators can

use to get customers and retain them for a long-term due to their personal

networking association with the operator.


The Driver

The rise of mobile social networking is a global phenomenon which has been

fueled by the desire to stay abreast with everything occurring anywhere,

anytime, and India will not be excluded from this trend. The key trigger buttons

for the popularity of this trend in India can be easily attributed to the low

Internet penetration levels, convenience in accessing Internet on mobile phones,

and youth's propensity to adapt to latest technologies. Low Internet penetration

in contrast to ever-increasing mobile penetration levels, will make it easier

for youth to connect on social networking sites on their mobile phones than

logging into them from PCs/laptops. The convenience of access on-the-go, and the

fact that youth live in-the-moment, constantly sharing bits of their life with

their peers has the potential to make mobile social networking a hot trend in

the near future.

As per a Global Nielsen report released in 2009 on social

networking, people under eighteen years of age are forming a small part of of

the social networking sites and blogging audience. The report also states that

in terms of sheer audience numbers, people in the age group of thirty-five to

forty years are the key target demographics in terms of growth and expected to

widen with the popularity of mobile social networking services. Furthermore,

there is an addition of almost twice as many fifty to sixty-four year old



Broadband connections are expected to reach 100 mn by

2012, while mobile subscriptions are expected to cross 500 mn by 2010. Thus, the

mobile device today offers the capability for youth to connect with their

friends on social networking platform, wherever they are, thereby not

restricting their access from their home/PC alone. According to JuxtConsult,

usage of Internet on PCs still remains dominant, but it is fast changing.

Although we have witnessed a 6% increase in usage of Internet on mobiles, we

still have a long way to go. The experience of accessing the net on PCs is far

superior than that on mobile phones. However, there is a rapid development on

mobile phone technology, and this coupled with deployment of 3G services will

definitely propel its usage in the near future.

Most of the operators have devised an easy route of

cashing in on the social networking hype by availing popular sites-Facebook,

Orkut, Twitter on their VAS portals. But that is not the definition of mobile

social networking services (SNS). It is about creating a dedicated social

networking platform on the mobile phone operator's network.

Monetizing MSN

Every innovation, to sustain itself needs to support itself with a viable

business model. The good part is, we will soon witness monetizing of mobile

social networking services with subscription channels coming up, and

implementation of vertical mobile interactive channels. While this will ensure

continuous innovations and specialized offerings to consumers, it will also

bring in steady bucks for operators and VAS players. Mobile social networking

services 'owned' and operated by mobile network operators can be strongly

integrated with VAS back-end services (eg WAP, RBT, SMS, voice). The new

paradigm in mobile 2.0 will witness mobile content and networking 2.0 moving

together. In the future, mobile social networking services will act as

additional capitalization with advertising and m-commerce. It can also represent

an innovative step towards implementation of a new 'media channel' that

encourages convergence of communication needs of the subscriber base.


Although mobile SNS may present the next wave of

innovation and opportunity for telecom players, it comes with its own share of

challenges. The key challenges in mass implementation of a mobile social network

lie in scaling the present network to required levels, tackling flash floods of

information access, filtering false alarms, and preventing misuse of the system.

Privacy of users is a major concern that needs to be taken care of, as the

location of a cell phone user is easy to determine.

Despite all challenges and concerns, mobile social

networking is well positioned to be the next big trend in VAS space. With the

introduction of 3G, higher speed, better experience with mobile Internet, more

and more operators will come up with their dedicated mobile SNS options for


It won't be incorrect to say that the next battleground in

the VAS space will be the launch of dedicated mobile social networking services

by various mobile operators and consumers lapping up the same, thereby creating

new Facebooks, Orkuts and Twitters of the mobile world.

Simone Ranucci Brandimarte

The author is co-CEO & COO, Buongiorno, Hong Kong