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February 07, 2011

Social Networking via Mobile Apps

February 07, 2011

It seems everyone is on Facebook these days.... from news media “crowd sourcing” their latest reports to the DOT hosting a page to post traffic issues and road closings for area citizens — its widespread adoption is more and more apparent. Many come because they want to be part of the “social media” party — they want to engage and be a part of a bigger conversation. But with a party as BIG as the one Facebook hosts, how much “socializing” actually happens?

Let me put it another way — how many times have you posted something to Facebook and were left feeling like you were casting a message in a bottle out onto the open sea? Only to get back — if you’re like me —  a few passive-aggressive thumbs-ups and a comment or two from people you rarely actually see in real life. What's so social about that?  In my opinion, it appears that in the mad dash to get everyone on board the social media train we’ve somehow lost the whole “social” part of it. But I see a glimmer of hope... for those of us interested in being a bit more social and a little less “sold” in our social media...

Enter what I am calling the “niche social network disguised as a mobile app”. With the rising popularity of mobile applications for smart phones and iPads, more and more developers have been integrating social media engagement right in the app itself — a smart move, geared toward driving more audience engagement, traffic, and therefore growth.

Of course gaming apps have been doing this for ages, but specifically I am talking more about "hobbyist" apps... for instance:

I love apps like these and others that feature integrated social media  as part of the overall app. Frankly, it's a more satisfying user experience — not to mention a shrewd business strategy —as typically the user interprets the social integration as part of their paid experience. That is, they see it as a feature of the application and therefore are more likely to utilize it.

A Real World Example: SketchClubI love to sketch and draw on my iPad. I recently bought an app called SketchClub from the App Store.  Now, I’ve tried almost every drawing app available for the iPad, but this one is my favorite by far — not because its a better drawing app (it has its strengths and weaknesses, but is essentially on par with the rest) — I like it best because it gives me something to DO with the artwork that I create.

Behind the app lies a small, but robust social network for those that buy the app... in this case, other people like me who like to draw. Why is that great? Relevance. You see, when I use the app to draw, its a natural next step for me to then post that new drawing to the group via the app. And the BEST part? The members actually INTERACT!  No more “message in a bottle” feeling... Members comment on each others artwork — from compliments to constructive criticism to tutorials and tricks. Plus I feel way more satisfied because my experience doesn’t stop with me drawing a picture, throwing it up on Facebook, and hoping someone eventually takes interest. Now when I post something, I know I am going to get a response, I look forward to it. That’s called ‘engagement.’

Recently they upped the ante even more... providing new features to the app/network that give a user inspiration and even more reasons to engage, such as:

  • An earned-points system, where each task you perform (upload, leave a comment, rate a drawing, etc.) earns you points... encouraging members to continually interact.

  • Weekly themed drawing competitions — these give people lots of good inspiration for subject matter (sometimes the scariest thing about drawing is figuring out WHAT to draw.) The competitions are decided by member vote, and first place actually gets a real reward — typically a $25 Amazon.com card.

SketchClub focuses on improvements that increase creative motivation and usage of the app, which in turn creates more conversation and engagement between members — and that’s called ‘sustainability.’

Tell me, do you find yourself more inclined to participate in online “social" activities when its part of a mobile app experience?

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