BBM: Why The Social Network Gamble Could Fail BlackBerry

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BBM is BlackBerry Ltd (NASDAQ:BBRY) (TSE:BB) next hope for survival as it attempts to turn it into a social network. But will the gamble work? Let’s just hope we don’t end up with a deja vu moment here.

Is BlackBerry’s move into social networking smart?

BlackBerry’s extreme delay in releasing new innovations after the first BlackBerry devices and pressure from competitors made the company’s devices irrelevant in the smartphone market. The company has hung on for dear life and now is looking to its messaging app BBM to save the day after being transformed into a social network. But that may be more easily said than done. BlackBerry still faces an uphill battle in spite of the new market it is entering.

BBM needs differentiation

From what we have heard so far about BlackBerry Ltd (NASDAQ:BBRY) (TSE:BB)’s push with BBM, it doesn’t sound different enough from already-dominant Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) and Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR). You download BBM and then sign up for the BBM Channels belonging to the people or brands you like. If that’s it, then BlackBerry could be in trouble. The company will really need to set itself apart from these other social networks and give us a reason to sign up.

After all, we know why we use Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn Corp (NYSE:LNKD). Each of them has its own personality, and we have different reasons for using all of them. So why would we use BBM? Give us a reason, please, BlackBerry. Or else we’ll be seeing a repeat of the BlackBerry 10 debacle.

Do we need a fourth social network run by BlackBerry?

My second question is related to the first. Could the market withstand a fourth social network? This is just like the question people have been pondering for some time in the smartphone world. How many ecosystems can the market support?

So how many social networks can we support? Even Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG)’s social network has found debatable success as a fourth option compared to the big three of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn because the company was a late-comer to the party and doesn’t offer much the others don’t already offer. And if BBM doesn’t offer anything better either, then it probably won’t be a viable competitor and might just crash and burn like BlackBerry itself. It doesn’t have the benefit of an already-successful company with multiple streams of revenue to hold itself up.

And then there’s BlackBerry’s track record, which is really in the dumps right now. It couldn’t even roll BBM out to Android without royally screwing it up, although BBM has since come back with a bang on the competing platforms, with BlackBerry Ltd (NASDAQ:BBRY) (TSE:BB) racking up the downloads. Needless to say, new CEO John Chen has his work cut out for him.

BBM does put mobile first

One thing that’s interesting is that BBM does put mobile before the other parts of social networking. This is one area where BlackBerry has the right idea and where it could build on its differentiation. This week I read a post on The Next Web about what the author thinks the next big social network should look like. Interestingly enough, putting mobile first was one of the items on the list, and this is what BBM will do. If BlackBerry could build on this aspect and provide some of the other items on the list, like better location-based recommendations, it could have something.

However, Google+ may be in a better position to beat the company at this because it already has many of the pieces in place. We’ll just have to wait and see what BlackBerry has in mind.

DISCLOSURE: I have no position in BlackBerry Ltd.

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