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Facebook, Snapchat, and the End of the Social Networking Era
For the first time in its history, Facebook Inc. now has more active accounts on messaging app properties than it does on its social network. After a series of bold moves, including a $22B purchase of WhatsApp and decoupling Messenger from the Facebook app, Facebook’s portfolio boasts 1.5 billion monthly chat app users—800 million on WhatsApp and 700 million on Facebook Messenger—compared to 1.49 billion on Facebook itself. In June, Facebook cut the cord completely, allowing people to join Messenger without joining Facebook.
Elsewhere on the chat landscape, Snapchat has overtly distanced itself from the “social networking” monicker while building an audience of 100 million daily active users. In the official blog post for its “Discover” launch, the company didn’t mince words: “This is not social media. Social media companies tell us what to read based on what’s most recent or most popular. We see it differently.”
Even Twitter, with its decelerating user growth, has taken a two-pronged approach to getting a foothold in the messaging game: it lifted the 140 character limit on direct messages, and launched standalone video messaging product Periscope.
This sea change has undoubtedly been years in the making, but 2015 marks the tipping point. It’s the end of the social networking era, and the beginning of the social messaging era.
A Dialogue Between East and West
With all the stateside media attention for Snapchat and Facebook, it’s easy to overlook that much of the world’s messaging innovation originates in Asia on apps like WeChat and LINE. When it comes to brand opportunities and e-commerce integrations, those platforms often act as de facto testing grounds—allowing western apps to pluck the most successful ideas and make them their own.
On WeChat, which dominates the Chinese market and has over 549 million global monthly users, there is almost nothing you can’t do on the app. Users can book car service, order food, receive and redeem coupons from companies like McDonald’s, make payments, join loyalty programs, and interact with official accounts from their favorite brands. In a “City Services” pilot launched in three cities this March, WeChatters can even book doctor appointments, pay electricity and parking bills, monitor air quality, view traffic cam feeds, and report incidents to the police.
In Japan where LINE is king, users have embraced predictive stickers and emojis—if you type words like “hello,” for example, the app automatically shows you fun sticker options to consider in place of the word. You can also order food, book a taxi, make payments, receive coupons, and listen to LINE’s music streaming service. For U.S. users of the app, you’ll notice that publishers and celebrities are trickling in to launch official accounts—Taylor Swift, Family Guy, BuzzFeed, Wall Street Journal, Paul McCartney, Katy Perry, and others. Flip your settings to the Japanese mode, and you see what lies ahead for the U.S. market: official accounts from Coca-Cola, Starbucks, Ralph Lauren, McDonalds, KFC, Amazon, Old Navy, Toyota, Seventeen, Groupon, and a host of other major brands.
U.S. messaging apps have taken those examples to heart. Tango, with an army of over 300 million registered users, just launched a partnership with Walmart allowing people to shop directly within the app. Celebrities like Sofia Vergara and OK Go and publishers like Huffington Post have built their new channels on the app as well, at times outpacing their Facebook or Twitter followings in under a year. Apps like Kik, which claims to have 40% of U.S. teens registered on its service, even have companies like Washington Post, MTV, VH1, and Comedy Central programming “chatbots” to have one-to-one conversations with subscribers.
On September 15th, Percolate and Block Party will host a webinar event that examines the state of the messaging app landscape, the best campaigns to-date, where things are headed, and how your brand can position itself for success.