Mobile social networks are nothing new, but as the use of mobile Internet in India rises, the relevance and value of such networks is nothing to be scoffed at. While networks like RockeTalk or Mig33 might not have the kind of numbers that Facebook does, in India at least, these networks have both been successful in gathering millions of users from Tier II and Tier III cities, users who are actively participating and creating content for these networks.
Networks like these, which utilise the data networks, allow members who might never use a computer outside of their office to connect to friends and people with shared interests, and share pictures and audio clips. These clips are organised into communities and people can choose to follow these communities to receive updates.
Rajiv Kumar, CEO, RockeTalk, said, “We believe that a lot of people are really creative and want to be heard, not just the people in Delhi and Mumbai, but everywhere in the country. Earlier, they just didn’t have an opportunity to be heard. Today, our network has over five million content streams, and while we have some content partners who offer premium content, the majority is from the community itself.”
By reaching out to people outside of just the big cities, and reaching them through an intimate platform like mobile, these networks can also serve as a powerful marketing tool, aside from offering a chance for people to be heard.
Kumar said, “Recently, Jeevansathi had run a branding campaign, and they started the campaign on radio first, inviting people to call in and interact. After some time, they ran the same campaign on RockeTalk, and invited people to share their clips, and the response in the same period was eight times higher.”
Not only does the closeness of the device make it ideal for getting a message to consumers, but the fact is that a mobile phone is designed for two-way communication. The nature of the device makes it very simple for users to record their own clips and send them, enabling fast and engaging communication with the consumers.
Not just for the big cities
The biggest draw, of course, might well be the egalitarian nature of such networks. Mohit Gundecha, Country Manager, Mig33 India, said, “We have over 40 million users globally, and we are running a network which works on low end featurephones, not smartphones. We have a strong network in the smaller towns.”
The networks are not a rural phenomenon. In the smaller cities though, the use of mobile Internet is growing rapidly, and if data costs are kept under control, then it’s safe to say that these networks will only continue to grow, and reach and influence more people.
Kumar said, “Brands are starting to see this is a precise and targeted way to build an emotional connect with the users. Early on, when ‘Luck by Chance’ released, BIG Pictures hosted a contest with us, with people getting to talk to the stars of the movie over our network. We asked people to tell us what their lucky charms are, and in less than three weeks, we had crossed 15,000 entries.”
Sponsored community channels that add value to users while building a brand are another effective tool. “A financial services brand could run a community, which tells people how they need to go about doing their taxes, or what investments they should be planning for, and people get value out of it and associate that with the brand as well,” Kumar explained.
Another tool that these networks can offer is the sale of branded virtual goods and social games. Gundecha said, “There is a lot of opportunity for brands in the space, not through pure advertising like branded goods, avatars and things like that work very well. The fact is that people want to feel special, and they want exclusivity. So we sell virtual goods which are only available in a limited run, for one day, for Rs 50, and the response to this is tremendous. It helps people feel unique, and special, and that is a very good thing.”
Growth through creativity
He added, “Some brands are already on board and starting to understand that mobile will grow through creative engagement, and not pure advertising, and that number is going up steadily.”
Kumar also said, “We have very different tools to reach people. You can’t take the learning from advertising online and apply it here. But we are keen to work with brands so they can understand the tools, and everyone can benefit from this.”
It seems clear that mobile networks are going to continue to grow, and represent a viable channel for advertising and marketing efforts. What’s key though, is that like any of the new digital mediums, advertisers have to be willing to learn how to effectively use the medium, before they worry about RoI.