Is Line The Next Big Social Network? Your Pundit-in-Residence Says 'YES!'
So, in that spirit, I’m going to predict it is Line, a mobile social app from South Korea, that first came to my attention during our Social Media Insider Summit last month.
Panelists during the last session of the show were called on to pick the social platform of the future, which is when Tom Pettus, vp/creative director at Southern California’s INNOCEAN USA, brought it up. He’d seen Line up close a few months ago when a Japanese family came to stay ... a family that included two teenage girls who were on Line constantly. “They’d both been Twitter users and they both had pretty sizeable commutes,” he said. Line, not Twitter, was taking their center stage.
Now, according to a story in The New York Times, Line has set its sights on the U.S., which only serves to bolster my prediction. (Though the full-on assault hasn’t started yet, it’s available in good old-fashioned English in Google Play and the iTunes store.)
So what is it? Line has mobile roots, and offers free calling, messaging, gaming, and more, with a healthy dose of Asian whimsy that seems to make communicating more creative. Instead of emoticons, Line features stickers that users can affix to messages to convey their moods; it’s one of a bevy of playful Line services, which also include:
Line Camera: “Decorate your photos just the way you like using a selection of over 700 original LINE stamps and over 100 frames.”
Line Brush: “Show your artistic side and have fun drawing with your fingers. You can even give your photos a painterly look!”
Line Band: “Makes communication among groups more fun and convenient.”
In case it’s not clear, I quote from the enthusiastically worded website. But what the site won’t tell you is just how noteworthy Line’s user numbers are. Only two years old, it has 230 million monthly uniques. Its users send upwards of one billion stickers per day. It currently is the 20th most popular free app at the iTunes store, ahead of Facebook Messenger, which ranks 35th. (Note: You can’t really let Facebook Messenger off the hook here by saying it has a massive installed base already. It currently is installed on only 12% of U.S. iPhones.)
But there’s more! Line has a business model. Per The New York Times, it makes $25 million per month from its games; per Tom Pettus, it already has an ad model that is refreshingly transparent to users, and advertisers get no free rides; they have to pay to use it. He explained at the Summit: “There’s pretty high engagement in terms of people knowing what they are there for, and knowing what brands are doing -- and if you’re trying to do something like a coupon initiative, it’s very effective.”
As for the U.S. rolout, details are sketchy, though it sounds like it will rely heavily on paid celebrities to jumpstart usage. (Paging Kim Kardashian!) Its most successful foray in the west, so far, has been in Spain, where it has 40% penetration in the iPhone market, to Japan’s 71%.
That it’s crossing borders between east and west is significant, but it’s traveling in other directions as well. Get this: when I installed Line earlier today, it found that only two of my contacts were members; one of them was our Guyanese-born former nanny of Indian descent, who lives in Queens, but has lots of relatives in Canada. Social networks can certainly grow from seeds like that.
It’s a Friday afternoon. You’re goofing off anyway, so why not install Line on your phone and connect with me? Don’t do it because this is going to be the next big thing – which it most definitely is! – but because my career as a pundit depends on it.