Friday, June 8, 2007

Social Networks on the Go

Sprite Yard, a mobile social network created by Coca Cola, will be launching on June 22 in the US. The social network launched in China last week and Coke hopes to have a global presence relatively quickly. Using simple bottle cap printed codes, Coke will give users the ability to win downloads, webisodes, ring tones, even virtual items in Second Life. However, with only one way to access the social network, will this ever be able to build a critical mass?

Old economy Coca Cola is definitely pushing the envelope in digital marketing and media. After having missed the boat on the Diet Coke and Mentos phenomena, Coke is making sure that they allow for their brand to be fully interactive. They've been one of the first to hop on the Second Life platform and with this social network, one of the first that I've seen to create a social network purely in mobile form. However, we've seen many problems with the mobile platform that may provide a difficult time for Coke to build an audience, at least in the US.
  1. Segmented mobile carriers and lack of standards. CDMA, GSM, What? The US market has four major carriers and two major standards, whereas the rest of the world is mostly on GSM networks (the ones that T-Mobile and Cingular use).
  2. Walled Garden Approach. I think that this primarily applies to Verizon. I can't type in a WAP enabled URL into Verizon without it going through some kind of Verizon proxy server to make sure that I'm not accessing T-Mobile's site through Verizon's network. I can't blame them but definitely a barrier to innovation.
  3. Too many Handsets! The carriers aren't the only ones to blame here. There's so many different types of handsets, resolutions, color schemes, etc that to develop for mobile means that you have to develop for hundreds of different phones and types. QWERTY keyboards, keypads, a combination of both (Blackberry Pearl), etc. Agh!

But all is not lost. Coke will definitely be positioned for first mover advantage when things change with the carriers. I think they realize the value of content over their networks but the behemoths of companies are moving so slow that who knows when this might be. Some of the things that Coke has going for it:
  1. Brand. I don't want to pull apart Coke's balance sheet but I'm sure Goodwill is a pretty hefty figure here. People will recognize Coke and realize that its okay to interact over your phone. But then again look at
  2. First mover advantage and campaign integration. The same message over multiple platforms. Coke's size and clout allow it to do this. Integrating their Second Life with their social network with their web with their print with their TV etc. creates for consistent messaging and a better user experience.
  3. Mobile's Hot. Kids and teens (the target market) are probably regulated by what they can do at home. Parents have all kinds of mechanisms to restrict Web sites and watch what their kids are doing. But on mobile, you can go anywhere and do anything. Kids like that. Parents don't. But mobile has other advantages like constant communication and that wins out. I think that until someone creates a monitoring device for mobile (which will probably be soon) kids will love that medium more than the computer.

I think its great that Coke's taking the plunge. The pros and cons are fairly even. I'll track what happens in the space and to Sprite Yard and watch for the launch on June 22!

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