Mobile Social Networking Builds on PC Usage

When we did our mobile social networking research early last year, we found that the dominant brands online were also dominant in mobile -- despite the relatively small audience. We surmized and have repeated since then that mobile-only networks would be severly tested by bigger and better known PC-based brands as mobile social networking becomes more mainstream.

Data from Nielsen from Q4 2008 confirm the pattern:

The most popular social networks via PCs/laptops tend to be the most popular via mobile too. Facebook is the most popular in five of the six countries where Nielsen measures mobile activity – only Xing in Germany bucks this trend. Mobile applications for handsets such as Apple’s iPhone are playing a substantial role in the expanded mobile use of these networks. Soon after the launch of the 3G iPhone, Facebook, with one of the most popular iPhone applications available, surpassed MySpace in mobile usage in the U.S. visited a social network through their mobile phone in Q4 08

The headline from this broad social-networking survey is that social network activity (broadly defined) now has greater reach than e-mail by two percentage points. That's quite significant -- as is the fact that there's still considerable indifference to ads on these sites among the core "Gen Y" audience -- but the mobile angle here is what we're obviously focused on. 

The following shows the number of mobile Internet users who visited a social network on their phones:

Nielsen Mobile social network access

The data above don't show market share but it's the established brands that are leading: Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, etc. In fact, as mentioned in the report excerpt above, Facebook's iPhone app and its aggressiveness in mobile generally have drive additional momentum and growth vs. MySpace.

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This broad, general pattern where the leading brands online take the lead in mobile is mirrored in the search market, where Google leads Yahoo!, which leads Microsoft by roughly the same percentages as online.

Mitigating variables can be a better or poorer user experience in mobile (re the online brand) or an exceptional mobile competitor.