You actually don’t have to be a mobile expert to do mobile marketing. Believe it or not, you actually don’t even need mobile-specific technology to do mobile marketing. You just need to be creative and use existing mobile platforms—especially social networks—to distribute your mobile marketing message.
One of the coolest things about mobile social networking is the open nature of the networks themselves. Most of the social networks that have a mobile component use APIs to pull in vital information from other profiles and push out updates across multiple networks (like pulling your Tweets into Facebook, or adding all your Twitter friends to FourSqure). This means users don’t have to create full social profiles to interact across a wide variety of social networks, and if they are “mobile” it means less typing with their thumbs. It also means one update can reach a variety of friends on a variety of social networks very quickly and easily. This is a stroke of genius for the social networks, and also really good for your marketing campaign.
While consistent statistics are hard to come by in the mobile world, all of the reporting agencies are noting tremendous growth in the use of social networks on smart phones and feature phones, through the use of downloadable applications or through the browser and text messaging. In March of this year comScore released a study that compared mobile social networking usage from January 2009 to January 2010. While MySpace showed minor losses (-7%), the use of Facebook from mobile phones grew 112% and the use of Twitter grew an astounding 347%.
Some studies show that social networking is the most common behavior on a smart phone after text messaging, outpacing even email and mobile web search. It makes sense that social networking would be such a popular activity on a phone, because the primary purpose of a phone has almost always been to enable “social” behavior. Interestingly enough, it appears that mobile social engagement also indicates that a person is over-all more engaged in social networking; Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said that the average Facebook mobile user is on average 50% more active than the general Facebook user. This may indicate that the people we reach with mobile social networking are key influencers in their social circle, which can be incredibly powerful for building brand awareness and loyalty.
Lo-So: Be there or be square
Local-Social Networking, otherwise known as “lo-so” (coined by Martin Bowling), is the next big frontier in digital marketing. If you haven’t noticed, “checking-in” is what all the cool kids are doing now. It started with people Tweeting their location and telling people to meet them there. Then it evolved into GPS-informed check-ins through twitter clients. That led to people checking in through FourSquare and Gowalla, where you could earn badges or mayorships for visiting the same location and checking-in. In the past month, Yelp has added similar functionality, and Facebook has also announced plans to integrate its own mobile check-in system (along with a new event system… hummm). Pretty soon, even the not-so-cool kids will be “checking-in” and this social activity is decidedly “mobile.”
The friendly competition created by these hyper-local status updates was fun but it needed more, so FourSquare got hip and added some stuff to reward the behavior: the ability for businesses to automatically reward their most loyal customers with in-store discounts, and the ability for business to track and statistically evaluate their customers (FourSquare for business). The platform gives marketers an astoundingly deep view into the behavior of anyone who checks-in to their location. They can learn who is visiting and how often, where the visitors are coming from, where they might be going next, and with the use of redemption code tracking, what they are buying and which offers drive the most offline sales.
Facebook has yet to monetize mobile traffic with advertising, so pay close attention: I believe that addition of the local-check in functionality and possibly some integration with the new events pages means that it is about to monetize mobile—and that will change everything! The potential for an uber-personal marketing experience is right there in the data that mobile users still willingly give up! With the information from a social profile, information from friends’ profiles, and historical check-ins, marketers could get a very clear picture of the people that they are marketing to, and hopefully use it to provide them highly relevant and actionable offers. (Also watch out for the inevitable new Facebook privacy scandal to correspond with this launch).
While this deep level of information and tracking is terrifying for some, I think it is exciting. Mobile marketing puts a direct response into real-life, and makes it trackable. It is important to note that in March, Google secured a patent to deliver location-based advertising that will apparently use location for “targeting, setting a minimum price bid for an ad, offering performance analytics and modifying the content of an ad.” It’s clear that this type of hyper-local digital marketing is going to become a reality, and an understanding of the current mobile environment online will be a key ingredient to success.
So what are the tricks to using social networks as conduits for mobile marketing? It is simpler than you think.
Effectively using social networks for mobile gains
The first step is to set-up, optimize and link all your branded accounts. After that, here is how you can use some of the more mobile-focused social networks to do some simple mobile marketing.
Twitter: According to some statistics, between 70 and 80% of worldwide Twitter use occurs on a mobile phone. So if you have a Twitter strategy, you really need a mobile strategy too. Consider occasionally treating Twitter like an SMS gateway and treating your list of Twitter followers a bit more like a list of opted-in phone numbers (they opted in when they followed you on Twitter).
What text message would you send to all of your customers if you could send it right now? Why not send it over Twitter instead? Twitter is free, and your most loyal users are already opted-in. You could send out reminders for sales and special events. Even better, send out promotion codes that can be redeemed for in-store discounts. You could even send out links to mobile coupons or flyers (these can simply be small digital coupons with their own web address or simple html pages with redemption codes and instructions). If you have the technology in your locations, you could also include links to scanable bar codes that people can carry on their phone, and scan them in the store.
If coupons and discount codes aren’t your thing, you could even Tweet links to downloadable mobile content, like applications, games, videos, wallpapers and ringtones. Just be sure you give your followers enough information to generate a good user experience—if you are Tweeting a link to your Android application, make sure that is clear in the Tweet, so iPhone users don’t click on it and get confused.
If you are careful, Twitter automation tools can really help brands that are trying to actively engage a huge user-base on Twitter. An easy way to start is simply to set up an auto-responder that will send anyone who follows your brand a direct message with a link to a mobile coupon, in-store redemption code or a link to your mobile site. If you have phone bank or call center you can even Tweet phone numbers for call-in contests or telethons—when phone numbers appear on someone’s phone, they are immediately clickable, just like web links.
If you already have an SMS system in place, there is no reason you shouldn’t be using Twitter to promote it. If you have an SMS alert system, there is no reason not to Tweet “Text ‘ALERT’ to 12345 to sign up for our mobile alerts” every now and then. Or you could even “Text ‘WIN’ to receive a mobile coupon, only valid today.” This is a great way to build up your opt-in list quickly. You can re-use the keywords that you use to prompt responses in other mobile campaigns, or change them so it is easier to know exactly what drove the sign-up. For example, have users text “keyword1″ when you give them the prompt through Twitter, and “keyword2″ when you prompt from a print ad. Just be careful not to do this too much, or you will risk being banned by Twitter.
FourSquare: As discussed above, there are some obvious marketing applications in FourSquare to gain massive insights about your visitors. This model is great for coffee shops, restaurants and museums, but what if you want to be more creative? You could use FourSquare as the foundation for mobile-based competitions, races and scavenger hunts that range from simple to complex.
Here is a great example: Jimmy Choo used the FourSquare platform to launch a new line of Jimmy Choo sneakers. The campaign was called CatchAChoo, and it got a lot of media attention. Before the launch of the new sneaker line, Jimmy Choo set up a profile for a pair of the sneakers, and built followers. The sneakers would check in to various locations around London (usually coffee shops,) and were left in a Jimmy Choo bag for the first follower who showed up to find and keep. People ended up watching the account closely, and racing all over London to be the first to show-up and claim the free pre-release shoes. This is a mobile social marketing campaign that required no knowledge of mobile marketing, and no mobile SMS platform. It simply used the mobile phone as a means of driving the social interaction.
Facebook: Whenever possible, (and until there is something new) you should be using Facebook like a social network aggregator, pulling in all your activities from Twitter, FourSquare, YouTube, Flickr and your blog. It is great for your mobile and non-mobile fans, and according to several measurement agencies, there are actually more mobile Facebook users worldwide than total Twitter users on all platforms.
So, if your website is not mobile friendly, start paying more attention to your Facebook fan page. While fan pages don’t work on most of the mobile applications (yet), they do work on the mobile versions of the website (m.facebook.com and touch.facebook.com), when people access your site from a mobile browser. Fan pages will also eventually make it to the text-based 0.facebook.com (Facebook Zero), which just launched with free Facebook access on 50 carriers, in 45 countries worldwide, mostly focusing on developing countries. This service is provided as part of an agreement between the mobile carriers and Facebook, to allow everyone to access the social network from their web-enabled phones, even if they don’t have a data plan.
Facebook fan pages are like mini-websites for the highly-engaged, and Facebook will automatically make them mobile on the “m.” subdomain. They can be accessed from the web interface and can rank in mobile search results (though there is lots of room for improvement with the mobile SEO of these pages). Chances are that Facebook fan pages will be more integrated in mobile apps soon, and they will be like a free mobile brochure. Until then, people can “like” your profile, write on your wall, Link to Facebook notes and see photos from the fan page all from m.facebook.com or from touch.facebook.com.
If you have coupons, in-store redemption codes or mobile downloads of any kind, this is another great place to feature them with images and links. If you have a mobile application, include screen shots in your photo albums, and link to it from your fan page; if you have a store locator that will work on a mobile phone, you should be linking to it from your fan page too. Maps, phone numbers and anything that will help people interact with your brand when they are mobile are great here. If you have important articles that are not mobile friendly, link to them from Facebook then cross-post them on your Facebook fan page as notes, and they will automatically be mobilized.
If you have lots of updates that are relevant or valuable to a mobile audience, encourage users to click the “subscribe via SMS” button, so that they will get your Facebook updates sent to their mobile phone as text messages. Otherwise, just be sure integrate the mobile-friendly content on your Facebook fan page by linking to it from Twitter and other mobile-focused social network, or from your website.
So what have we learned?
The moral of the story is this: You don’t necessarily need to invest heavily in mobile technology to start reaching mobile customers. Mobile, social and even local are quickly becoming deeply integrated and entrenched. Some of the top social networks have done the heavy lifting for you, and all you have to do is know how to use it and be creative. While these tricks won’t get you a full-blown mobile strategy, they are a simple way to get your feet wet and give it a try.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.