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London's latest naughty social media craze

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Marketing don Kevin Jackon asks whether it’s appropriate for brands to capitalise on “casual hook-up” apps

Badoo and Grindr logos

By Kevin Jackson

If you’d asked me five years ago what social media was about, I might have guessed that it meant the act of dividing up the Sunday supplements over a cafetiere.

But five years is an eternity in the internet age, and now we’re all happily poking, following and linking-in with each other. Brands were initially slow to jump on the digital bandwagon, viewing this craze with the kind of suspicion and doubt that most people applied to the threat of the Millennium bug.

Now, the majority of brands have a thriving social media presence, with many abandoning their standalone websites altogether, preferring to hang out with their fans and followers on Facebook and Twitter. 

So I’m watching with interest to see how the evolving nature of social networking will impact these brands, and wonder what the future holds as audiences look for more instantaneous connections.

Take Grindr for example. A couple of years ago, Stephen Fry got Jeremy Clarkson shifting uncomfortably in his cords, as he regaled the audience with tales of a new social networking app that enabled quick hook-ups in the gay community. Combining elements of MySpace, Facebook and the iPhone’s seamless inbuilt GPS functionality,Grindr lets users build a simple profile, featuring their basic stats and preferences, along with a picture (nothing below the waist, thank you very much). Other users in the locality can then browse the app to find like minded people close by, and send messages and pictures.

Grindr announced that it had over two million users, with an astounding 45,000 users online at any given second

Although the app’s inventor Joel Simkhai claimed that it was designed to facilitate socialising, it was pretty clear that users were “Grinding” in order to arrange a hasty pick-up, without the need to buy drinks or make time-wasting small talk. In June of this year, Grindr announced that it had over two million users in 192 countries, with an astounding 45,000 users online at any given second.

Based on a similar concept, but by no meanslimited to gay users, Badoo is the biggest social media craze you’ve never heard of. According to its founder, Andrey Andreev, “Badoo is about finding adventure nearby. Find new friends. Find new people. And you can do this regularly, everyday.”

And clearly people are taking him at his word, with the site now counting over 117 million regular users.

Although it’s been enormously popular in the Latin markets, Badoo is still a relatively new player in the UK. The company recently relocated its HQ to Soho, considered by many to be the spiritual home of the casual hook-up.

“Casual” is the key word here, as Badoo users speak positively about the informality and spontaneity of the system. It’s also predicated on a mutual agreement by all its members to put themselves out there and invite comments, compliments and connections.

So what does the phenomenal success of this new breed of social media mean for brands and businesses? Many brands will no doubt shy away from making short-term connections, especially when their marketing teams are so focused on establishing meaningful, mutually beneficial relationships with consumers. Is there really much value in a fleeting exchange or flirtatious comment?

Maybe so. After all, brands might be looking for the next million loves of their life, but consumers are happy for much more transient exchanges. Blame it on post-MTV attention spans, but there’s a reason why die-hard Tweeters relish the limits of 140 characters.

Think it, say it, and move on. Perhaps business need to think about the Badoo/Grindr phenomenon and start embracing more spontaneous connections.

It’s also worth considering the users themselves in this equation. This new generation of web users aren’t just social media savvy – they’ve never known a world without it.

When Malcolm Gladwell wrote The Tipping Point, he highlighted the importance of Mavens and Connectors. Now there’s a whole new breed of connectors, willing to reach out across cyberspace and make contact with someone they’ve never met before.

All brands crave word-of-mouth, and “going viral” has become the Holy Grail of message transmission. Unlike Twitter and Facebook, which are limited by the finite nature of users’ personal networks, Badoo and Grindr open up a world of possibility.

So what’s it gonna be, your place or mine?

In the last 30 years Kevin Jackson has worked with some of the world’s most respected marketing services groups, including Interpublic, Grey and Saatchi. He’s also worked closely with a vast range of brands, from Adidas to YMCA. He is now an executive director at George P Johnson, and author of the widely read blog ‘Depth Perception’. Follow him @ExM_GMP and read his blog.

 




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