Telecom’s Skinny Mobile makes social media push

Pre-pay youth brand debuts on Facebook, Twitter. Drops strong hint over its launch date; faces immediate flack over handset locking.

Telecom’s new youth-focussed sub-brand, Skinny Mobile, has debuted on Twitter and Facebook – and hinted at a late December launch [update: Skinny boss Paul O'Shannessey told NBR that the Rhythm and Vines festival Dec 29-31 would be Skinny's "brand launch." He also outlined when commercial service would begin].

Skinny snuck onto both social networks on December 7, but has so far been little-noticed. On Twitter, @SkinnyMobile had 39 followers as of first thing this morning; on Facebook it had 338 likes (a "like" being a pre-requisite for following the account).

The head of Telecom’s Skinny Mobile unit, Paul O’Shannessey, has previously told NBR the service will launch at a major youth event in the new year. Skinny’s Twitter and Facebook accounts duly name-check the Rhythm and Vines music festival, due to be held December 29-31 – suggesting the launch could be just three weeks away.

(Mr O’Shannessey leads a team of around 20 Telecom staff allocated to the Skinny sub-brand, some of whom, like himself, are newcomers to the company. They work at Telecom’s office, and Skinny will run on Telecom’s network.)

Skinny has not displayed any great sense of social media subtlety so far. Both its Twitter and Facebook accounts feature fairly conventional promotion for ZM, the radio station hosting a Skinny road-trip competition.

Mr O’Shannessey told NBR that Skinny would have no ad agency, instead turning to “youth-sourced marketing” for its launch ideas and plans.

If so, the Skinny boss must have consulted some commercially hard-nosed young people.

For Skinny will launch with a policy of locking handsets – a controversial practice stamped out by the Commerce Commission three years ago.

Leaked website screen shots indicate Skinny will promote itself as a foot-loose and fancy-free service, with weekly pre-pay plans priced from $4.

2degrees maintains Telecom is attempting to exploit customer naivety about handset locking – or SIM locking as it is also known – which means a phone bought from Skinny will only work on Skinny (a rebranded version of the network more commonly known as XT).

Facebook flack
On Facebook, two people questioned Skinny about its policy of handset locking (both, as fate would have it, appeared to be a members of the Auckland youth market. Telecom said at its annual result that it needed to do better in said market).

One said it put her off.

Telecom’s Skinny replied, “We'll be offering heavily discounted phones and a number of these will be SIM locked (only work with our SIM cards). If you want to ditch us (& we hope you won't) it will cost a mere $30 to unlock your phone, within the first 9 months. After 9 months it’s free to unlock your phone.”

Vodafone briefly introduced handset locking in 2008, but relented after Telecommunications Commissioner Ross Patterson sent a letter stating the practice was anti-competitive.

2degrees complains. Clock ticks.
On Friday, 2degrees laid a complaint with the Commerce Commission over Skinny’s proposed handset locking policy.

2degrees wants action before Skinny launches.

But a spokeswoman for the commission told NBR it would take several weeks to access whether an investigation is possible – likely pushing it beyond the date that Skinny starts signing customers.

And with Telecom under time-pressure to move around 1 million customers off its old CDMA network before it’s switched off in June, and the carrier’s total customer count declining at a time 2degrees is gaining, it’s unlikely to do anything to delay its new budget brand.

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