There are profits to be made from social networks on mobiles. Surely the agile mobile industry will not allow screen size and navigation limitations to stop us from capitalising on this cash cow? Peter Richards thinks there are no insurmountable obstacles.
The recent spate of social networking and community-focused applications on the web, and the commercial success of the organisations behind these communities, suggests the mobile industry should be well-placed to translate communities to the mobile handset.
Murdoch taught us a lesson by getting in early – he’s now enjoying a much-coveted position in online networking.
Some would argue the key to reinventing social networking and communities to the phone is by pushing communities that are racking up members in real life, rather than trying to create a new ‘cyber’ community and adapt it to the (let’s face it) smaller and less navigable environment of the mobile phone.
Following logic, and if this rule is applied, a major business opportunity can be snatched up with smart gambles by community operations, mobile operators, entertainment companies and content providers alike.

Personal networking aside, the mobile phone is also particularly well-suited for business networking.
The telecoms industry alone has a buoyant trade show circuit offering the opportunity for attendees to link up over the lifeblood of these shows – the mobile phone. Imagine arriving at the next major trade show, in a typically hectic and hurried state, and being able to set up last minute meetings with like-minded delegates.
Informa Telecoms has become central to this topic, with analysts recently reporting that community applications will generate the most revenues in mobile content by 2011, with communities replacing music as the ‘killer app.’ The industry body conducted a survey which predicted that community services will become the most important revenue generator for the mobile content industry five years from now, beating mobile TV as the biggest money maker.
The revenue-generating capability of communities was earmarked in this same report, due to the far-reaching capacity combined with the fact they can be incorporated into virtually all mobile services. Indeed, a significant percentage of mobile phone users are uploading photos or videos to the web from their mobile phones or using mobile chat or dating applications.
Communities are most impressive when built on both user-generated and provided content. MySpace is already delivering this model, giving users the flexibility they desire to create their own profiles while they can also ‘shop’ for content that is relevant to their lives.

"Community services will become the most important revenue generator for the mobile content industry in five years …"
To truly take off amongst a consumer audience, a tiered approach is needed for replicating communities on to the mobile phone. In particular, let’s consider these issues.
• Relevance: the promotion of mobile communities must allow users to identify with the service – it must be something people are already doing in real life.
A naïve user, for example, probably wouldn’t seek their first communication with a brand or another person via the mobile phone – but an avid fan would be quite likely to enjoy the immediacy of the service.
• Real-life importance: the content must serve a critical purpose to the user’s life, such as a mobile dating service which provides a clear end-goal of meeting a new partner.
• Quality: the content might be great, but if the quality is poor, users will walk away (with their ready cash firmly pocketed).
• Usability: with the challenges of a smaller screen and keys, the service must be designed to work effectively within the confines of a mobile environment.
• Safety and security: the service must provide its users with the confidence that their details will be kept safe at all times and that they are in full control of the mobile community experience at all times.

Mobile communities offer an explosive arena, without a doubt. Of all the applications to be delivered over the phone, mobile communities can bring a bigger purse. With operators struggling to make substantial profits from voice traffic new data-based alternatives need to be pursued.
But the key to creating a ‘mobile city’ is cooperation – the telecoms and media industries need to work together to ensure data services are excellent in quality, well-packaged and thoughtfully delivered, to satisfy our increasingly knowledgeable and finicky consumer.
While users can’t be expected to pay for nothing, operators and brands can ignite a passion in them – and watch the profits roll in – if the right content and social channel is offered.

Peter Richards is CEO of Mobestar, which develops mobile video technology and content solutions that enable mobile network operators and major brands to drive new revenues from their customers.  
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