The Future of Social is Mobile

Has Social Gone Mobile

Today’s mobile devices effectively combine elements of computers, entertainment centers and communications networks in a way that both extends and transforms the social networking experience.

The Dutch airline KLM recently came up with an interesting idea. When customers book tickets through its website, they can check out the Facebook and LinkedIn profiles of their fellow passengers – with permission, of course – and decide who they want to sit next to. This increases the chance of having an interesting conversation. Social is going mobile in a big way. In fact, the ability to make or improve real-world connections while on the move is one of the most appealing aspects of social media.

The future of social media is all about facilitating discoverable connections. Just updating your status or tweeting from your desktop is pretty lonely. But when you connect social with mobile and local, the power of social media increases.  Consumers are now able to ‘discover’ friends who are in the same vicinity.

In our 2011 survey of US smartphone users we found that 74% of them use their smartphone for social networking and 42% of them use social networks at least once per day.  And according to GroundTruth, an aggregator of US wireless carrier internet data and a mobile data partner of Compete, social networking is the number one mobile internet activity, composing 57% of sessions and 58% of total time spent online. The success of Foursquare – the location-based service which allows users to tell friends where they’re eating, drinking or hanging out right now – confirms that mobile and social make great companions. This is only the beginning.

When I’m sitting at the airport waiting for a flight, there’s a good chance that about 40 other people I know are in the vicinity. Social media can help me find them. The same is true of trade shows, which are so huge these days that there’s little chance of bumping into somebody you know if it’s not by design.

This insight addresses a common criticism leveled at social networks like Facebook: they encourage virtual, online friendships rather than warm, real world relationships. I’m not saying social media can create human experiences, but it can certainly facilitate them.

Social media have the power to bring people together. Twenty years ago, one lonely teenager obsessed by a particular cult comic book stood a good chance of remaining lonely. Today, thanks to blogs, Facebook and other social media, he or she can find hundreds of like-minded people. Social networks allow you to create your own crowd rather than be forced to fit in with one.

Social media like the photography app Instagram – which turns every Average Joe into a photojournalist – gain part of their power from validation. We are driven to create because our creations can be validated (“liked”) by our friends, in real time.

But there’s also a strong mobile element: we shoot pictures on our phones when we’re out and about. They become a public photo album or documentary that’s appealing to look at and fun to make. Similarly, Twitter at its best is a source of running commentary from a variety of situations, including major news events.

There’s one downside to all this: managing your visibility. It’s great to be able to let people know “I’m here” – but sometimes you don’t want to be found. When you’re busy or just feel like being on your own, you have to remember to hide yourself on your social networks. I think that’s a new skill we’re all going to learn.

*This post was featured on the Kantar Media E Room