It is no surprise that mobile social networks are beginning to become more and more popular. After all, mobile users constitute one of the biggest growth areas in the online market.  According to Juniper Research, the number of active users of mobile social networking sites will rise from 54 million in 2008 to nearly 730 million in 2013 While mobile social networks have yet become as sophisticated as non-mobile powerhouses like Twitter and Facebook, there is no doubt that they will head that way. In fact, they are already able to address the unique needs and aspects of mobile users, such as the ability to quickly and easily share photos snapped with a smartphone or utilize the GPS capability of these mobile devices.

From a mobile device, users can perform a subset of social networking functions like updating their status, sharing pictures, viewing pictures, reading mini-feeds, finding their friends contact information, even instant messaging. Limited functionality in a mobile environment is sufficient to keep us engaged, as long as our favorite features are accessible.

Fuelling the trend of mobile social networking is the advent of more sophisticated and well-built applications. The Facebook application for iPhone and Blackberry, for example, can quickly be found and installed. Once logged in, users can stay in touch and communicate with their friends from an intuitive mobile interface. For those with less sophisticated phones, fear not as simple mobile social network sites like offer a pretty good experience as well.

The Mobile User Experience on Social Networks

Posting, tagging, and sharing pictures can be a great experience from a mobile social network. On an iPhone, for example, users can scroll through high-res pictures of their friends as easily as they can browse digital pictures on their own mobile phone.

According to Dave Sloan, marketing director of Avot Media, the next logical step is to shoot, upload, share, and comment on video. Users will be able to shoot a video from their device and quickly post it to their profile. YouTube already offers this feature, but mobile video playback on the most popular social networks is not yet possible. Video playback will enhance the richness of user-generated content and drive engagement and lock-in to the network.

He shares that just like picture viewing, the mobile video sharing experience has to be rich and simple. “Social networks can ensure a smooth video playback experience by using a robust video formatting and delivery engine on the backend. The right mobile video delivery tool can support various device formats, hundreds of phone types, all network conditions, and the scale and volume of their mobile user base. The user should be able to browse their friends’ videos and their fan page videos without being slowed down by slow download times and image break up,” he says.

He also notes that mobile video is best streamed directly to the mobile device’s native media player. “This means that a social network application would need to pass the video request to the video streaming engine on the backend, have the video stream to the device’s media player, then pass the user back to the social networking app. Embedding the video inside the application won’t work as the native media player needs to take the entire screen, maximizing the quality of the video. However, it will be easy to design an experience that smoothly passes the user back to the application. Obviously, social networks are intent on keeping the user engaged and active on their network,” Sloan adds.

Of course, social networks will want to be careful not to simply make video available via one channel, like on the iPhone over a 3G network. The best approach would be to invest in mobile video delivery tools that support all devices on all networks, especially popular lower speed networks like EDGE and popular phones like Motorola RAZR.

The trick to ensuring a great mobile experience, says Sloan, is to make content easily discoverable. Asking users to click 10 levels down in an on-deck feature phone application is messy. And, asking users to open a mobile browser and use a search engine is equally as painful. Mobile social networks have an opportunity to streamline the discovery of Web content. Content is shared, presented by friends, and presented in a mini-feed. No search required. No clunky WAP site. Users are already accustomed to content feeds on the desktop. Presenting content in the context of a social network via a mobile application is the logical next step. Social networks could, by virtue of presenting a great user experience, be the tipping point of mobile video, he observes.

This emphasizes the fact that as social networks expand into the mobile arena, they have been careful not to cram too many features into the mobile experience. Naturally, the mobile version should be a “light” version that is easy to navigate on the go. Some features are best left out of the mobile version, but others, like mobile video, are perfectly appropriate as mobile devices become more media-centric and backend mobile video delivery tools become more robust. As long as the experience is well designed and the delivery tools are scalable and robust, there is a mobile game changer on the horizon.

Marketers should keep in mind some best practices in mind when looking to leverage mobile social marketing campaigns:

Know your target audience.

Bear in mind that consumers who frequent social media sites tend to be young and tech-savvy.

Make your Social Mobile Campaign as viral as possible.

By doing so, you enable users/visitors to your site to drive brand awareness of your product by creating buzz through their own postings/blogs/forums. Utilize viral tactics such as e-mail and widgets to encourage users to share content and product messaging.

Remember that users tend to trust information from a company website more than from a social networking site

Leverage a microsite for hosting and presenting user-generated content, but be sure to attract the expert consumers to encourage more interesting content creation. Remember, it can be difficult to drive traffic, so accompany the microsite with a search campaign and some general media buying.

Offer social and product-engagement elements on your microsite.

Readers engage with your brand attributes indirectly through training tips and athlete blogs. While this may not serve your entire target audience, it does attract one of the more lucrative niche audiences.

Choose appropriate products.

Some products inspire more content creation than others. If the product doesn't inspire consumers on its own, it’s a good idea to attach the brand to something that does inspire consumers such as music or sports.

Encourage content posting via mobile phones.

Allow your users/brand advocates to post photos and videos directly from their mobile devices. These content creators are highly engaged in media and social interaction online. Advertisers can take full advantage of these advocates by incorporating audio and video into their microsites.

By Shanti Anne Morais