The way we use social media to share and interact is fundamentally changing with the rise of messaging apps and bots.
Soon we’ll notice most social activity is no longer going to happen in public, instead transitioning to private groups and messaging apps. There will be a significant change in what “social media” is.
This is a change that will challenge everything we’ve learned about social media over the past 8-10 years. Until now, standing out in the timelines and News Feeds have been the main goal of most strategies. Soon these channels are no longer the first place people will turn for discovery and interaction. As one-to-one messaging begins to dominate the social media world, it creates an array of new insights, questions, challenges, and opportunities for marketers.
In a public Q&A session back in November 2014, Mark Zuckerberg said:
“Messaging is one of the few things that people do more than social networking.”
Since then, Facebook have made huge strides in the messaging space, acquiring WhatsApp for $19bn and building Messenger up to 900 million users worldwide.
When you take a look at the data, you can see why Facebook are putting such an emphasis on messaging apps and dark social, (via The Economist):
A quarter of all downloaded apps are abandoned after a single use. Only instant messaging bucks the trend. Over 2.5 billion people have at least one messaging app installed. Within a couple of years, that will reach 3.6 billion, about half of humanity. The market’s leading duo, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, which is also owned by Facebook, are nearing one billion monthly users each. Many teenagers now spend more time on smartphones sending instant messages than perusing social networks. WhatsApp users average nearly 200 minutes each week using the service.
When it comes to sharing, private messaging is already leading the game. “According to a RadiumOne study, almost 70% of all online referrals come from dark social globally. For the UK, this figure increases to 75%.” –Via Econsultancy.
Dark social channels include:
- Messaging apps: Messenger, Kik, WeChat, WhatsApp
- Private browsing & message communities
Messaging apps have now surpassed social networks in terms of monthly active users too, (graph from a Business Insider report):
The transition from public social media to chat apps could be the biggest change in internet culture and marketing since social media itself. However, how will brands maximize the opportunities presented by messaging apps?
Consumers consider messaging apps as more private than social media and may not react positively to the traditional interruption advertising model where brands pop up in their inbox without permission; though these ads could be coming to Messenger:
(h/t Ryan Hoover and Jonathan Tzou for this spot)
One brand that has started to experiment with dark social, and marketing through messaging apps is Adidas, who are using WhatsApp to build hyper-local communities in cities across the world and have previously used Twitter’s DM feature to invite a group of advocates to a private conversation with one of its sponsored players.
Comedy website Funny or Die have also been utilizing Kik to distribute content since early 2015 and have seen some great results:
“It’s amazing how quickly we built up a following on Kik,” Patrick Starzan, Funny or Die’s vice president of marketing and distribution explained in a blog post. ”It took about three months to get to 1.5 million chatters, compared to the two or three years it took to get the same number of people on social networks.”
“When we send out broadcast messages to our Kik chatters – usually with links to new videos – we see conversion rates as high as 10%. That’s pretty substantial since we only send out the broadcast messages once a week, whereas we’ll send posts to social networks like Facebook and Twitter five or six times a day and see lower conversion rates.”
Right now, it’s a time for testing and learning to figure out what works and how open customers are to interacting with brands one-to-one setting.
Here come the bots – with the biggest apps, where users are spending the majority of their time, becoming platforms to which other apps integrate to.
“What are bots?”, you ask:
Essentially bots are a way to simulate conversations human users. You can interact with bots for entertainment or to get things done. For example, instead of phoning for a taxi, you can now order an Uber using a Messenger bot.
Unlike apps, bots don’t need to be downloaded, they live on servers, not a user’s device. This means using bots should provide a smoother experience for the user as switching between bots doesn’t involve tapping on another app.
The trend of apps and bots living within larger platforms has already taken off in China, where a large number of brands run bots through WeChat. And yesterday at F8, Facebook announced more about their Messenger bot store, following hot on the heels of Kik, who announced a bot store of their own last week.
According to Wired, bots within WeChat enable its 600m monthly users to book taxis, check in for flights, play games, buy cinema tickets, manage banking, reserve doctors’ appointments, and even apply for mortgages, without leaving the app.
What does this all mean for marketers?
Organic engagement on many social channels is in decline, but at its heart, social media has always been about connecting with people one-to-one. That won’t change. What will change is the strategies and platforms we use to connect.
As customers transition to private messaging, it’s essential for marketers to remember that above all else, messaging interactions are opt-in experiences, much like email lists. And with permission also comes a higher set of expectations.
Content delivered through messaging apps and bots will need to be relevant and more personalized than a Facebook post to your whole audience, and oftentimes users will need a reason to open up a conversation or opt in.
The possibilities for messaging apps and bots are endless, and Messenger opening up a bot store could be the most significant launch in the tech and marketing industries since Apple first launched the App Store.
I look forward to the commentary (complete with conflicting opinions) that will come out of these developments. What do you think?