What Marketers Need to Know About Chat Apps


The rise of social media changed marketing. Now, before some marketers have even fully adapted to that world, the social web is transforming again. The rise of private social networks and messaging apps will challenge the strategies that marketers developed for public social networks.

If your company is still trying to figure out how to make the most of Facebook and Twitter, consider:

  • WhatsApp has rapidly become the biggest messaging service in the world with more than a billion users.
  • Snapchat is a juggernaut with the 18-24 age group, now earning more daily check-ins than Facebook. The company founder insists it is “not a social network.”
  • Facebook is the social network for most of the world, yet their major investment is in the development of private Facebook Messenger, including bots that would help companies scale “human” interaction through the service. More than 900 million people use Messenger now. Other private messaging services like Viber and Kik have attracted millions of users.
  • Of the Fortune 100 companies, 77 use Slack. The average Slack user keeps the app running 10 hours a day, and is actively using it for over 2 hours a day.
  • Instagram started private DM in 2014 that focuses on the sharing of content with up to 15 people in a threaded approach.
  • Twitter has experimented with Snapchat-style doodles and photo editing and in 2015 expanded the character limit via private direct messaging.

The movement of consumers from public social media to private messaging has been so rapid that Business Insider reported that the combined usage of the top four messaging apps now exceeds the combined usage of the top four social media apps. Falling data prices, cheaper devices, and improved features are helping propel this growth.

Why the hunger for private messaging apps? Perhaps people are becoming more interested in actually communicating, rather than broadcasting. Maybe we don’t want personal and private lives merging any more and we want control over our different social circles within these messaging apps. As my 16-year-old nephew put it, “My friend posted on Facebook and we made fun of him. We only use Snapchat now because who wants to put everything in public all the time? This just connects me with my real friends.”

Social media won’t go away, but traditional social networks may become less important to certain groups. The rise of more intimate channels presents new opportunities, and perhaps perils, for marketers. Two of the tensions marketers will have to wrestle with:

Discoverability vs. interactivity — The challenge of a more private app is getting people to find you and interact with you. In an app people are primarily using to communicate with friends and family, what role does a brand have to play?

Although discoverability may present a challenge, private messaging could offer even more engagement for the brands that can figure it out. Consider that without the boost of ad support on Facebook, your organic reach for your content probably averages less than 1 percent (although this varies widely by business). The typical open rate for email is much better, but still not very high, at about 20 percent. The open rate for a private message? 98 percent. Smartphone users are also more likely to have push notifications turned on for a messaging app than for email, a branded app, or even for Facebook. But that means the expectations are high. How do we insert ads and brand messages in conversations in a way that isn’t disappointing… or creepy?

Content orientation vs. person orientation — Today a brand goal on social media is mass relevance. In this current “mass relevance” model, content is at the center of the experience. We want that cat photo (or white paper) to get as many likes, clicks, and shares as we can muster.

But in this new world, the goal is engagement through private, meaningful, conversational moments. In the future, content will still be important, but the individual will be the focus of the experience. Brand communications will have to be more immediate, expressive, and intimate.

How do you scale those interactions? Somewhat ironically, the answer may be algorithms and bots. Big Data will help us craft personalized, timely, location-based content and offers, and Facebook is working on smart bots that can hold human-like conversations and a system to analyze the conversations. Brand communications will be more immediate, expressive, and intimate.

Though my nephew may mock it, Facebook is an especially important player in this transition; this is the platform most brands have been married to, and this is where most of the marketing investment is still occurring. There is a comfort there. How will that relationship change moving forward?

Facebook Messenger will now support scannable codes, user names and links. This update allows the creation of a unique Messenger URL that will allow for greater discovery of users and businesses within the private sphere. Facebook is already positioning pages and ad units with a “message the brand” option and analysts believe Facebook is positioning Messenger as its primary commerce hub of the future.

But there is some good news in all of this. For most brands, 80 percent to 90 percent of all online fans communicate through “dark social media,” meaning text messaging, email, and other channels we can’t see or measure. These private communications are migrating to the private networks owned by Facebook, Snapchat and others. Will these companies eventually provide us insights from the greatest untapped source of consumer data on the planet? Businesses will no doubt try to navigate, and one day may possibly benefit from, these massive private networks.

This article first appeared in www.hbr.org

About Author

Mark Schaefer

Mark W. Schaefer is the Executive Director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions and author of five marketing books including The Content Code.

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