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TomoToday can broaden your social-media circles

by Louis K. Hardin

The Web has been praised for taking publishing to new heights, but it’s also pioneered new ways for people to connect and reconnect. In Facebook, Mixi, MySpace and hundreds of other large and small online communities, we’re learning new modes of socialization.

And, as with any community, the person with the most friends or followers is the one who stands out in the crowd.

In the emerging societies of social media, “friends are the new currency,” said Haruka Horauchi, CEO of Ishosha Inc. Horauchi’s company aims to give social-media users direct access to this emerging currency with a new service called TomoToday.

SNS (social network services) are becoming increasingly mainstream and attracting more demographics. As a result, we’re seeing a population explosion online like none other,” Horauchi said.

Naturally, though, not every newcomer has immediate access to online friends, and not everyone can assimilate easily. Also, in the case of late adopters, who tend to be set in their real-world ways, some don’t have the time, patience or knowhow required to build and foster online relationships.

Enter TomoToday.

“We provide a short cut to a substantial social-media presence,” Horauchi said last week in an exclusive interview with The Japan Times. In short, TomoToday will friend you left, right and center, and follow wherever you wish to go.

When the service officially launches on May 1, TomoToday subscribers will be able to choose from strategically selected sets of virtual friends, dubbed “InstaNakama,” tailor-made to nurture the user’s desired online identity.

Say you’re a shy young man, in need of pointers and ice-breaking intros. The Wingumen are at your service. Or perhaps you’re a recently single woman between relationships. Horauchi recommends the Ikemen-tachi, a handsome mix of flirtatious beaus.

Other readymade TomoToday circles include: Jetto Setto (multilingual friends from all over the globe); OB-Gun (long-lost school chums); Power Ranchers (for the corporate networks); and Geek Gumi (for socially challenged otaku).

Horauchi said that the InstaNakama are compatible with a broad range of online services. Whether it’s dozens of veteran guildsmen, ready to fall on their virtual swords for you in the online role-playing game World of Warcraft, or seasoned shutterbugs, eager to praise your vacation snaps on photo-sharing sites like Flickr, InstaNakama guarantee you superior strength in numbers.

While Horauchi wouldn’t comment on how InstaNakama are recruited, she did say the rise in unemployed temp workers was making it easy to fill the ranks.

Horauchi stressed that TomoToday isn’t only for newbies. “The social media landscape is constantly changing,” she said. “We’re often seeing users tiring of one network or being seduced by another.” Horauchi said the socially fickle can also benefit from the TomoToday service when and if they decide to migrate to other pastures.

TomoToday users can opt for 3-month, 6-month and 1-year subscription plans, with pricing based on the friend volume. Users can also choose how quickly the circles of peers and admirers expand, so growth appears as natural as possible.

TomoToday’s services don’t end there. “Ultimately, a social-media user wants to not only gather a following but also consistently interact with that following and achieve personal goals, whether it’s getting an invite to an exclusive event or impressing coworkers and potential mates. And that’s easier said than done.”

To that end, TomoToday offers ContentsUP, what Horauchi calls a “social-enhancer module.” Thanks to a highly skilled content division, users can take advantage of customized photos of parties and family gatherings, as well as entertaining textual content.

“Our ContentsUP team is available 24/7 with witty quips, up-to-the-moment links and original nekonabe videos and LOLcat photos,” Horauchi said. The team includes former copywriters, versed in the art of composing effective messages on Twitter’s microblogging platform.

A current TomoToday beta-tester, who asked to be called Shinji, said he is extremely pleased with the progress he’s made so far. Shinji is using ContentsUP in conjunction with Gyaru Gaggle, an InstaNakama of fun-loving women.

“I’d grown tired of Mixi and wanted to try something new and more international in scope, like Facebook. I was initially nervous about being poked by strangers,” he said. “But now, I can poke back with confidence!”

He said his only concern was how he would fare once the beta period ended.

Horauchi said that for her the online arena is a new frontier, but her previous work experience — at a company that provides surrogate guests for weddings and funerals — has prepared her for the task at hand. “In principle, it’s the same sort of service, and we believe that Japanese consumers will instantly recognize the value of such an online service,” she said.

TomoToday is initially targeting individual users, but Horauchi hinted at the possibility of an corporate solution being rolled out in the future.

“As companies and institutions begin to experiment with social media, they’re bound to encounter meddlesome online trolls and genuinely angry mobs. We hope to offer vocal groups of satisfied consumers to help tilt the balance and make the customer-service conversations proceed more smoothly.”

Though she couldn’t comment in detail, Horauchi said that an early trial run on 2channel, the popular Internet forum, had gone well.

She added that an enterprise version of InstaNakama will also appeal to viral-marketing divisions.

“Crowdsourcing is a powerful tool that is being underused. We can provide a supercharged petri dish to jump-start any campaign,” she said with a wink.

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