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Social Communities are Going Mobile in 2007

An ABI Research Brief reports that 'mobile social communities' currently count nearly 50 million members worldwide, a number that is expected to reach 174 million in 2011.

"The rapid rise of online social communities -- gathering places such as MySpace and Facebook -- has done more than bring the 'pen pal' concept into the 21st century," says vice president of research Clint Wheelock. "It has created a new paradigm for personal networking. In a logical progression, many social communities are now based on the mobile phone and other portable wireless devices instead of (or as well as) the PC. Such mobile social communities extend the reach of electronic social interaction to millions of people who don't have regular or easy access to computers."

The brisk pace of mobile social community growth means opportunities for new entrants hoping to join the established players such as SMS.ac, AirG, and Jumbuck that provide the technology and marketing behind leading mobile communities.

Opportunities to monetize mobile social communities fall into several main categories. Mobile operators profit from the data usage that underpins all mobile community activities they carry, and in some cases from monthly subscription fees as well.

Companies can sponsor special interest communities that relate directly to their brands or services. For instance, MTV Asia sponsors a music forum for Asian users, where members talk about music. (In fact mobile social community sites will see their greatest growth, on both a percentage basis and absolute number of members, in the Asia-Pacific region.)

The 'self-profiling' nature of these communities means that advertising can be targeted to specific niches with great marketing accuracy. Many mobile communities also offer downloadable merchandise for sale -- ringtones or images, for example.

"What would help drive these communities is for more operators to sponsor them," Wheelock suggests. "In the U.S., operators have not yet put much backing behind them, which means that it's not simple for a mobile subscriber to get a new phone and immediately join an online social community. They have to seek out a third-party provider."

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