Mobile advertising: the next big challenge for the social networks

In December 2011, 425 million users logged on to Facebook from mobile devices. Nevertheless, the social network created by Mark Zuckerberg didn’t earn a cent from publicity from this enormous flood of traffic. While the traditional version of the platform demonstrates its profitability (during the last year it earned $3.7 billion from advertising income), Facebook is still faced with the challenge of making a profit, thanks to the rise in mobile use, without affecting the platform’s usability.

With six billion mobile phone lines worldwide and the percentage of smartphones rising sharply, there is no doubt where the big share of future business is for online marketing. Twitter has also taken this into account and announced that ‘Promoted Accounts’ will be made available for its Android and IOS versions. Until now, advertising messages on the web were available on its standard mobile website, but not on the native applications for each operative system.

In a press release announcing the changes by the 140 character social network, it underlines the user friendliness of the mobile platform. According to the company, in the next mobile application updates, promoted tweets will be integrated organically, and will look similar to any other messages. In addition, they will appear only once on the timeline, and will disappear as soon as other users’ tweets appear.

To begin with, the promoted tweets will be seen by those users who follow the brand in question, and will later be slowly integrated for all web users. For their part, promoted accounts will be shown on the ‘Suggestions for you’ feature, as happens in the PC version of the platform. Currently 55% of users active on Twitter log on from mobile devices. With this slow incorporation, the platform is betting on generating a minimally-intrusive advertising model that will not negatively affect user experience but will, at the same time, generate more income from the rise in mobile traffic.

Facebook’s doubts

Its current inability to generate income from mobile device publicity is one of the social network’s main worries. In fact, it was mentioned as one of its weaknesses in documentation that that the company itself presented to the authorities in preparation for its imminent listing on the stock market.

Of course Facebook could start to include advertising tomorrow. But, just like Twitter, what concerns the company created by Mark Zuckerberg is how to create an advertising model that doesn’t flood the interface with adverts and end up by driving users away. The bet by the biggest social network is, in principal, to imitate the strategy of its main competitor. Just like the micro blogging service, Facebook is planning to implement a mobile advertising solution in which adverts appear among the platform’s traditional updates.

The challenge of combining usability with profitability

Just as much in the case of Facebook as that of Twitter, the $64m question is, will advertisers be prepared to invest their advertising budget in adverts that have the same visual presence as a traditional message? Paradoxically, the success of the mobile platforms is presenting the social networks with a dilemma. In devices with a smaller screen, the space for generating advertising content without bothering users is smaller than that of a PC. Platforms are therefore faced with the challenge of offering new advertising modalities that manage to convince both advertisers and users.

From the angle of marketing experts, and that of businesses that are looking to increase their visibility through their presence on mobile devices, the challenge has today become a question of content quality. In an increasingly dynamic environment loaded with information, companies that want to standout will have to concentrate on giving users information with added value, and commit themselves to two-way interaction as a way of reinforcing their relation with consumers.

What is true is that mobility is the great paradigm that is changing the way users surf the web. And, undoubtedly, the mobile revolution will bring with it new solutions and advertising platforms destined to exploit profitability. We all know that there is no advertising model that works without a genuine form of financing. Consumers are already using the mobile web, a recent study presented by the advertising company inMobi at the last Mobile World Congress revealed that smartphone and tablet users consume more content through their mobile devices than through TV. The next challenge is for brands to reach this enormous potential customer universe with intelligent strategies that do not negatively affect user experience.