The need for one-to-one interactions and privacy has led to interesting innovations in the field of online communication. From Yahoo Messenger to Google Talk, from Facebook Messenger to Whatsapp, new ideas are consistently changing the game. Some of them have been forgotten and replaced by newer ideas with time.
When the social networks most use on a day-to-day basis eventually made it big, they killed off most of the older messaging systems. But gradually, a demand grew for applications that offer more privacy and excel on smartphones, which is naturally not the forte of social networks. This is the niche messaging at which apps are now beginning to excel.
The Evolution of Messenger Apps
Going mobile has long been a significant struggle for conventional social networks like Facebook as it requires significant adjustments in technology. So even after certain changes, one could not help but feel that some platform offerings were a bit out of place for the mobile environment, in which sleek, minimal designs are the norm. This is exactly where messaging apps have gained ground. They began where older messengers left off, but they are smarter and meant for the next major playing field: the mobile-dominated internet.
The lines between social networks and messaging apps are even now being blurred. Messaging apps are now evolving or at least trying to evolve into social networks of sorts. This is happening simply because they have realized that they can utilize their already large user base to expand their reach and business by offering more options, and in due course they can also threaten other social networks as more and more people adopt smartphones. If you think messaging apps cannot beat the might of the bigger brothers, consider this: WeChat has 300 million users and, as a Chinese brand, access to a 1-billion-strong mainland China market where Facebook, Google, Whatsapp, and many other international players are banned.
The urge to go “social” first unleashed the networking revolution, but the process has come full circle. After an overload of socialization, people are slowly realizing the need for more intimate and personal modes of communication. In fact, we all have different layers of contacts. We generally visit or call closer friends and family while keep the rest in touch through social networks. Messaging apps are doing nothing different except making the process more personal by allowing you to create a network of your close contacts rather than narrowing down a large network to find those who can be close to you. While this does not seem like a big deal in isolation, in this age of spamming, hacking, phishing and all other sorts of threats, many are finding this the right way to go.
A recent Pew study found that more than 25% of people think that they should spend less time with social networks. This is because of an overwhelming feeling that most of the networks are filled with irrelevant or frivolous information and have privacy issues. Also, many feel that they are wasting too much time with such sites without doing anything productive. This does not mean that they have no benefits. But there’s a market for something that can pick up the best part of social networks while filtering out the noise. The messaging apps are trying exactly that by morphing themselves into social networks.
What’s in it for marketers?
So, how do business owners and marketers see it? Especially if you are already spending heavily with Facebook and Twitter promotions, it may be difficult to engage with these new sites. The chances of going wrong are as much a possibility here too. Especially in the new breed of messaging apps such as Snapchat, which is coming out with some eyebrow-raising demands for ad fees, content stays active only for a few seconds before disappearing. What businesses can do here is to utilize the unique features of these applications. The peer-to-peer nature of such apps has the potential to spread word-of-mouth publicity in a more trustworthy manner. For instance, China’s Xiaomi used WeChat to run a sales drive that sold 150,000 handsets in matter of minutes. Also, mobile-specific services such as other apps and downloads should be ideal candidates to be sold through such networks.
As these applications are still new and yet to devise a stable business model, little can be said concretely about how to strategize for them. The only thing we can say for sure is that the businesses must keep an open mind. And, due to the current volatility of the messaging app advertising market, there is a lot of room for innovation by pioneering individuals. Messaging apps have only begun their ascent, but very soon they may become the primary battleground for brands.