SAN JOSE, Calif. – Where is social networking heading? Wherever you are, said a panel of mobile experts here at the User Generated Content Conference & Expo.
“The trend is that the phones are getting smarter, but the audiences are getting smarter too,” said Eric Litman, chairman and CEO of the mobile analytics site Medialets. “For user generated content there is nothing else that generates as much content as these mobile devices. Text messages, photos, messages to friends and to social networks.”
Litman was part of a panel on mobile and social media at the show, which is owned by Jupitermedia, the parent company of InternetNews.com.
“The number one access point to the cloud is the mobile device,” said Philip Miano, national sales director for Third Screen Media, the ad platform for AOL. “We haven’t even scratched the surface of this digital access point you hold in your hand that can answer questions instantly.”
But as consumers get more comfortable with mobile devices they will come to rely on them more as an information and communications resource.
“I was watching the NFL Network and heard them encouraging viewers to go to their ‘Web-enabled mobile device.’ That was the exact wording which blew my mind, it shows how close we are to mainstream awareness,” said Miano.
Miano said in the next two to three years, relatively niche mobile services in the U.S. like mobile banking, getting your boarding pass and micropayments will be far more common. “People will do it without thinking twice, just like today an 80-year old woman in Japan orders tea with her mobile phone.”
Location, location, location
Other trends will be location-based or location-aware services finally hitting their stride, said Jonathon Linner, CEO of Limbo, a social network geared to mobile users. Limbo members broadcast their location, locate bars, clubs or restaurants, and coordinate their friends with group text.
All the tools and services are free to members thanks to the support of what the company describes as “interactive, highly targeted, location-based mobile advertisements.”
Unlike typical online or offline ad campaigns, Linner said mobile ads can target people by location opening up new possibilities. He described a campaign by the Jack In The Box chain, which targeted mobile users with ads for a new menu item, smoothies.
He said the restaurant chain was able to target potential customers by region. Where it was successful, Jack In The Box was quicker to deploy the needed smoothie equipment to additional stores in adjoining regions and expand the campaign.
Can we talk — briefly?
Panelists debated the effectiveness of “having a conversation” with customers, adspeak for providing extensive details based on their interests. “The best advertising is not in your face, but is something that comes along at an appropriate time about something you’re interested in,” said Miano.
He enthusiastically described a campaign by Adidas for sneakers endorsed by Celtics star Kevin Garnett that included phone ringbacks and point of purchase messages from Garnett over a series of months to interested buyers.
“It was a very clever campaign. After three to six months the campaign was ending, but the audience was surprised, they wanted to know why the conversation had stopped,” said Miano. “Now I’m pretty sure they (Adidas) is looking at a version two.”
But Linner argued most mobile users don’t want an extended conversion or marketing message. “There are always fanboys, but the great masses of consumers may just want to buy certain shoes, not talk to Kevin Garnett,” he said. “A conversation can be really short like, “Where’s the nearest place I can buy a Mountain Dew?”
During the Q&A session, panelists were asked how soon an iPhone or other mobile device would offer enough features to be the only computer most consumers would want or need. None of the panelists said they saw that happening anytime soon.
“I don’t think it will ever happen,” said Linner. “We didn’t get rid of radios when TV came along. I love my PC for what it does and my iPhone for what it does and I don’t watch TV on either one for very long. The linkages between the devices might stronger and stronger and we’ll surely see more devices.”