Messaging Apps: The New Social Media?

phone with message appsAs micro-content and mobile technology continue to gain momentum, it makes sense that messaging apps are catching on like wildfire. Messaging apps allow for a unique ‘content portal’ of one-on-one interaction between friends and family. It’s a more intimate way to connect and share content than traditional Social Media networks (that essentially encourage you to advertise your life to the world). Also, messaging apps are just more convenient as they cater to an always-connected mobile audience.

Perhaps most importantly, however, is that internet users (especially Millennials and Generation Z-ers) are continually favoring private, closed networks versus open networks that traditional social media outlets encapsulate. Anonymity also plays a big role here. Messaging App ‘Kik’, for example, allows users to sign up via user-names in lieu of phone numbers.

There’s also the case for a more interactive and fun experience. With messaging apps such as WhatsApp, WeChat, LINE, etc., users can play games with each other, share media, record and send voice messages, share stickers (i.e. fancy ‘emoticons’), and much more; all through the convenience of a mobile phone.

And let’s not ignore the meteoric growth that WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger have had in the last couple of years. WhatsApp currently has over 700M active monthly users, averaging ~25M more each month. Meanwhile, Facebook Messenger has over 500M active monthly users. For comparison purposes, Twitter currently averages around 280M active monthly users, and has just recently been surpassed by Instagram which now averages over 300M. What about good old-fashioned SMS? WhatsApp blows it out of the water, touting 30 billion messages sent a day versus 20 billion sent globally through SMS.

2015 messaging apps bigger than SoMeJPEG[This chart by Business Insider better exemplifies the growth differences between traditional social media platforms and messaging apps.]

So, where does that leave businesses and digital marketers looking to tap into a hyper relevant consumer market? Certainly, social media isn’t dead by any means. It still proves to be a very fruitful and meaningful way for brands to connect with current and potential customers. In fact, marketers plan on spending more than ever on Social Media initiatives this year, making up the top three areas of increased spending for 2015. However, the recent explosive growth of messaging apps behooves brands to pay attention to what’s happening in this digital space. The shifting focus on mobility and convenient, short-form communication means that messaging apps will most likely continue to gain disruptive momentum.

One example of how brands are getting their foot in the mobile messaging door is through the social media platform ‘Path’. Through Path, users can look up businesses listed on Foursquare and send them a question via text instead of calling them. That message is then received by a Path agent who calls on the user’s behalf and texts back a response within five minutes. Whether or not this ‘person-to-place’ texting will gain mass appeal is a question for another day, but it’s still worth noting that astute brands are taking advantage of the messaging revolution (and doing so does not necessarily mean having to pay $750,000 for disappearing ads on SnapChat).

I believe that mobile messaging apps won’t necessarily replace social media. But rather, the two will merge as an all-in-one social platform. We’re already starting to see this with a lot of the messaging apps out there today that continue to blur the line between what sets the two apart. SnapChat, for instance, allows you to publish ‘SnapChat Stories’ that are available to anyone in your network of friends to access within a 24 hour period.

It’ll be interesting to see how the two platforms continue to coalesce in 2015 and beyond. There’s so much going on in the mobile space right now it’s almost impossible to keep track of the constant ‘digital disruptions’. Nonetheless, brands and marketers should keep a close eye on the evolving social world in order to benefit from any opportunities that other companies may not be paying attention to.

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