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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The secret social network success: RIM now advertising its BBM messenger direct to consumers

I've been researching the BlackBerry business model quite deeply recently, including a detailed briefing document for Telco 2.0's executive briefing service.

My general view is that the end to end RIM ecosystem tends to get underestimated in potential by operators, for example in terms of the potential for two sided revenue streams. I think that both the App World and BES could be interesting platforms to enable operators to interact with enterprise customers, for example for generating revenue from APIs.

But it is the consumer side of BlackBerry that is still really poorly understood - particularly its growing adoption among youth. My own anecdotal experience in London is that ownership has two separate peaks in age - business users around 40 and consumers about 22, the latter predominantly female.

The sheer number of students with BlackBerries is unexpected to many - there seems to be an assumption that the iPhone would be the device of choice, while in fact RIM has a "secret weapon"

The proprietary BBM messaging service seems to have evolved into a new social network purely by chance - and it has gone unnoticed by most commentators. Yet it has suddenly evolved into a quite exclusive club - pretty much acting as a mobile version to replace MSN, with what seems like viral uptake.

As usual, the social media industry gets hung up on newcomers like FourSquare and obviously Twitter, ignoring what looks like an old-school IM service. The mobile operators assume (wrongly) that people want all their social networks converged and bundled together with the handset phonebook. In fact, it makes perfect sense to have separate (and good) capabilities for Facebook, BBM, email and SMS in the same device.

Yet to my mind, BBM seems to have the most underground "viral" uptake of anything I see in the real world. Yes, I'm in London, which creates its own technology microclimate. But evidence suggests that BBM is also driving BlackBerry sales in places like Indonesia and Venezuela as well.

So it is with great interest that I noticed yesterday some saturation-advertising specifically for BBM on the Tube, on the platforms and escalators. Good to see RIM actually promoting it actively.

For all the hype about apps, it is wrong to underestimate the power of a messaging service or social network in device choice. Most apps are only appealing to individual users. But messaging gets the n-squared factor. Give an average teenager or student a choice between a must-have app.... or missing out on their friends' gossip.

As always, two maxims hold true:
- Divergence is more important than convergence
- Communications is more important than content

A side-issue here is that RIM (unlike Apple, or in the past Symbian) has been directly targeting prepaid users with low-end devices. Given the youth market outside the US tends to be 80%+ prepay, this is a completely open field that other smartphone platforms have abdicated, although Android is catching up now).

1 comment:

W said...

I think your last comment is the key. They are deliberately targetting the young pre-paid crowd with cheap phones. The BBM effect just comes afterwards - whether it is larger than the "cheap" effect I'm not that sure.

One thing I have a question on - that you may know better - is whether in the UK as well, people have to pay extra to get on the BBM ? In the US, you can buy a RIM phone, but to use BBM I think you need to usually pay something extra. eg. I've seen basic voice+data being sold for $30 and then being told I need to pay $30 extra to use the blackberry network. (their internet compression technology, push email BBM, etc.)