As mobile traffic to social networks grows, how can brands reach this new audience?

quick facts

  • Facebook claimed in February 100m people a month were accessing it via mobile, up from 65m six months before
  • Figures from ComScore and the GSM Association’s Mobile Media Metrics show that, globally, a fifth of Facebook users access the site on a mobile
  • In the UK, nearly 5m people accessed Facebook on a mobile in December 2009, spending more than 2m minutes there
  • An Essential Research survey of mobile users at the start of the year found nearly half visit social networks on their mobile.
  • Yet Harris Interactive figures from January revealed just 14% of mobile users access social networks in the UK

Ever since MySpace and Facebook launched mobile sites in 2007, social networking has been tipped as the killer app that would get people using their phones to go on the mobile web. With February’s news that Facebook receives 100m visits a month through mobiles, that optimism appears well-founded. Indeed, figures from ComScore suggest a third of all internet activity initiated on a mobile phone is bound for Facebook, with Bebo on 3% of visits and MySpace and Twitter each on 2%.

However, ComScore’s senior mobile analyst, Alistair Hill, believes the huge opportunity this offers the social networks to raise revenue by allowing brands to interact with this massive mobile internet audience isn’t being used. “It’s surprising that Facebook doesn’t have a mobile sales offering,” he says. “You could argue it’s building the audience and refining what it does online first. But it means there’s a huge amount of traffic which isn’t being as well monetised as it might otherwise be.

“At the same time, brands need to realise that mobile is very different from online,” Hill adds. “PC web use is mainly about searching and transacting, but mobile is used mainly for keeping up to date with messages and communicating with friends. So brands need to tap into that without being intrusive and they need to provide content people want to engage with.”

According to MySpace, there has been a lot of interest recently in its mobile inventory. In February 2008 then-MD Travis Katz predicted over half the site’s traffic would be from mobile by 2013. Since then growing smartphone penetration has caused traffic levels to boom.

Simon Daglish, VP and commercial director of Fox Interactive Media, claims that mobile advertising on MySpace is now in high demand. “At the centre of any successful campaign on social networks is ease of interaction,” he says. “Mobile now provides the perfect tool to enable this and advertisers are increasingly engaging with our users through mobile as part of a bigger engagement programme on MySpace.”

However, MySpace says very few deals are struck for mobile traffic alone. Instead ad sales are usually based on bundled deals across fixed and mobile sites.

Mark Slade, MD of mobile sales house 4th Screen, believes there’s a massive opportunity for social networks to develop mobile sales teams or package their mobile inventory so it can be sold independently from online space. He reckons that, with the extra targeting capabilities of knowing who users are - their age, sex and interests - mobile inventory should be highly appealing.

Yet the huge opportunity to reach the vast daily flood of mobile traffic on social networks is passing many brands by, he says, because they and their agencies are having to come to terms with reduced budgets just as they’re starting to get to grips with their online strategy. He predicts selling inventory and engagement around social networking will be a long-term education process.

“Agencies know the mobile web is dominated by social networks but there’s a big question mark over things such as formats and sizes of ads, which aren’t as standardised in mobile,” says Slade. “So the supply of inventory is far outstripping demand. There needs to be wide education about how the mobile social web can fit brands’ strategies. They can’t just repeat what they do online.”

He points to Coca-Cola’s work with Bebo and O2’s free SIM campaigns with Bebo and Flirtomatic as examples of how offering points, which can be used elsewhere on the services, as rewards for interacting ensured they reached their target audience without being intrusive.

Mark Curtis, co-founder of Flirtomatic, says O2 is one of a handful of brands that are leading the way in allowing people to gift virtual branded items or receive ’flirt points’ which can be used elsewhere on the site for, in O2’s case, signing up for a free SIM and passing on the offer.

“Mobile is massive for us. It’s three-quarters of our traffic and generates something like 220m page visits a month,” he says. “Mobile users log in, on average, seven times a day, which is twice as often as web users, because it’s so much more convenient. So we make more from mobile advertising than we do web advertising.

“Brands definitely have to see that the opportunity isn’t solely in advertising, it’s in giving users something they want to interact with so you’re part of the experience.”

Make an offer

Being part of the entertainment or the content that people log on to when engaging in social networks, rather than interrupting that process, is steering early mobile social media campaigns towards brands either providing content or helping to collate and present user content.

Take the latest addition to the Wunderman campaign for the Ford Ka. A little over a year ago it prompted people who had received a QR code in a pack at a club or bar to use it to go to a website and start uploading pictures of places they thought people should check out - such as a bar, music venue or piece of street art - in keeping with the campaign’s Find It strapline. The resulting map-based promotional site featuring the user-generated content,, is due to be bolstered this month with an iPhone app allowing registered users to access the site and upload photos and details of places of interest.

For Claire Hepworth, small car communications manager at Ford Europe, this is a way of placing the brand central to young peoples’ social media experience as they reveal and discuss points of interest across Europe. “We started off with mobile, through the QR codes, which then got people online uploading photos and discussing cool places. Now we’re going full circle by bringing mobile in again,” she says. “Allowing young people to upload pictures through their phones makes us a part of their social media interaction with one another, but not in an obtrusive way; we’re the facilitator.”

Similarly, Sony Ericsson is expected to make its Pocket TV show central to the revamped social media strategy it’s due to refine at the end of March. The short music show, produced as part of a marketing agreement with Iris, has already had a 12-week run last year and will start again in April with a link on Sony Ericsson models, as well as MSN’s mobile entertainment portal, hopes the handset maker’s senior marketing manager Richard Dorman.

“Mobile social networking has taken off so it would be unthinkable now for us not to have apps on our phones which automatically take people to the likes of Facebook and Twitter,” he says. “We want to be a part of that social media activity by providing entertainment that we can seed in social networks, as well as giving a direct link to on our smartphones. We’re hoping to get people chatting about the show on our YouTube site, as well as to be a part of the resulting conversations they have in social media sites. The show is a good vehicle to subtly push our new high-definition video recording handset, the Vivaz, and hopefully get people to discover it as well as the show.”

Although some early campaigns are trying to increase social networkers’ enjoyment of a site or offer them original content, the vast majority of traffic going to social media sites via mobile is going untapped. This is largely put down to the medium providing an opportunity at the worst possible time, so that when budgets begin to recover mobile will be more closely investigated by brands and agencies. For this to happen, though, the social networks themselves will need to push mobile inventory and offer it as a distinct, highly focused and targeted service, rather than an add-on for web deals.


Published 11 March, 2010 by NMA Staff

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