There's a huge amount of interest in mobilising the various social networking services - MySpace, Facebook, Flickr and so on. Operators are partnering left, right and centre.
But I wonder.... do people have more loyalty to their mobile operator, or to their preferred social networking brands? I think it's the latter, because of the impact of the rest of the user's social group. I can make a unilateral, personal, decision to switch from O2 to Vodafone. But I'm not going to be able to convince my entire social network to switch from Facebook to MySpace.
So, I'm more likely to switch operators to get my choice of Web 2.0 brand. Which sounds good on the face of it, but ignores an important factor:
Social networks' coolness varies over time. People switch allegiance from Bebo to MySpace or whatever is more "exclusive". People belong to multiple networks. It's a bit like real-life social scenes - the bars & restaurants that are ultrahot this month, are full of Z-list celebrities next month, and full of clueless tourists the month after that. The A-list has moved on. And from an online mobile/social networking point of view, these A-listers are the 'hubs', the most popular people. Their friends follow them.
So just because MySpace is popular right now, doesn't mean it will be next year when a mobile operator's contracts come up for renewal. People may desert their current operator in droves if their coolest friends are now using a service which partners with another carrier. In other words, the risk of mobile social networking is that it might induce "group churn".
(Caveat: this is a very metropolitan/London-centric view of socialising, where there is sufficient fluidity in networks of friends - or openings of cool new bars & restaurants - to make us fickle. In smaller towns people have more fixed friendships, and go to the same local pub all their life, so for these cases loyalty may be more easily achieved)