Report: Mobile To Be Social Networking 'Hub'

It doesn't take a visionary to see the convergence of social networking and mobile devices as a natural progression. Cell phones are inherently social tools -- enabling voice, email, and SMS communications, along with activities like photo-sharing -- so extending social media to the mix is a logical step.

But a new report from Forrester Research goes further, suggesting that mobile phones have the potential to become the hub for all social computing activities rather than just a complement to the PC-based experience.

"Mobile phones will increasingly become the glue that holds the social graph together, offering creative tools and immediacy, presence, location, and context when interacting with the real world," states the Forrester report ("Why Mobile Could Reinvent Social Computing"), authored by analyst Thomas Husson.

While conceding that mobile social networking is still a niche market, Husson points to Facebook Mobile recently hitting 65 million users -- tripling its audience in eight months -- as a prime example of where things are headed. A flurry of initiatives, including alliances between handset makers and social Web properties -- like the deal between INQ and Facebook -- and Nokia's "Lifecasting with Ovi," offering, also signal growing interest in the space.

Mobile operators, likewise, are striking partnerships with popular social brands and touting easy access to these properties as a way to attract young customers and sell more data packages. AT&T, for example, this summer introduced Social Net, a free mobile social networking app offering access to Facebook, MySpace and Twitter and allowing users to customize news feeds.

But the Forrester report finds that Web giants like AOL, Yahoo, Google and Microsoft have so far failed to turn the huge audiences for their online and communication services into social audiences -- "a lesson traditional telecom stakeholders should bear in mind."

What about advertising in the emerging mobile social sphere? The report acknowledges that many brands are still trying to figure out or refine their social media strategy online. (And many social networks are still developing their business models.) So, why should they bother with a fragmented, immature market like mobile social networking?

"The probable answer is that only those with a youth audience should decide to experiment judiciously," according to Forrester. But the report underscores that mobile potentially offers marketers a trove of user data for targeting consumers wherever they go. The problem here is privacy. By tailoring messages too precisely, companies risk creeping out mobile users and losing their trust.

At the OMMA Global conference last month, Jordan Rohan, founder and managing partner of digital media consulting firm Clearmeadow Partners, warned that marketing via mobile social networking will be especially challenging. That's because it combines the complexities of both mobile and social platforms, further distracting advertisers from the traditional digital ecosystem.

He suggested the best bet for advertisers was to stick with a big social media player like Facebook as it expands into mobile.

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