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7 Social Mobile Apps Marketers Should Know About

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The rampant consumer adoption of mobile has many implications. It is becoming clear that the continuing evolution of social media is, for the time being, directly tied to mobile devices. Moreover, for the consumer, the utility of these devices is increasingly driven by mobile apps.

As I noted in a recent post, according to data from Gartner, by 2017 mobile apps will be downloaded more than 268 billion times; in 2013, the U.S. consumer spent an average of 2 hours and 38 minutes per day on smartphones and tablets- 80% of that time (2 hours and 7 minutes) was spent inside apps and 20% (31 minutes) was spent on the mobile web. Within this emerging mobile ecosystem, mobile messaging apps in particular are enjoying remarkable growth. As such, here are 7 social mobile messaging apps I think marketers (and businesses) should know about.

Whats App- Mobile Messaging

WhatsApp might be the most popular social mobile app you’ve never heard of (until recently). Founded in 2009 by Ukrainian Jan Koum and American Brian Acton, the text messaging utility has reached 450 million monthly users in just four years of existence- faster than any other company in history to do so. WhatsApp only charges 99 cents per year (after a free year of use) and doesn’t carry ads, two reasons that may have lent to the app’s mercurial rate of growth.  

This formula must have impressed Zuck and crew over at Facebook, who just plucked down a cool 19 billion to acquire What’sApp. It’ll be interesting to see how quickly Zuckerberg tries to infuse ads into the What’sApp user experience.  According to the Wall Street Journal, on a recent conference call Zuckerberg said he doesn't think ads are the right way to monetize messaging systems. We shall see about that.

In truth, as with Facebook’s purchase of Instagram, the What’sApp acquisition may be further evidence of Facebook’s interest in bringing some fresh blood to the social network’s aging user base. That said, given the price tag Facebook was willing to pay for WhatsApp,  I’ve got to believe they have some plans to monetize the app in some fashion. Marketers stay tuned.

Tinder- Dating Service/Messaging

A dating service and messenger app in one, Tinder leverages the primal shallowness of human attraction with great facility. Taking the “hot or not” approach to dating, after building a personal profile, Tinder users are able to scroll through pictures of local guys and gals, swiping right if they like what they see, and left if they don’t. If two people anonymously like each other, they can take the next step and send a message. Users can easily log into the Tinder app using their Facebook profile and share their location information to increase the likelihood of a local hookup (NB: there has been some recent controversy surrounding Tinder location information sharing). Where was this app when I was single?

Since its launch in 2012, Tinder has amassed 6.5 million active users and facilitated 750 million “matches” in the first year and change of its existence (Chuck Woolery be damned). The devious marketer can’t help but imagine the truly native advertising possibilities such an app opens up…

Kik- Mobile Messaging/Browser

Kik is a smartphone messaging service with the added benefit of having a built-in browser. The value add to users is that, with Kik Messenger, you can chat with your friends while browsing and sharing websites with them. Kik’s CEO Ted Livingston says his app counts 100 million registered users. Commenting on the app’s popularity, Livingstone had this to say: “This is the killer app of the mobile era. It’s all about communication, and texting is the way people want to communicate. It’s where all users are on mobile.”

Hard to argue that one.

LINE- Mobile Messaging/Chat/Gaming

LINE is a Japanese-based app that allows users to make free calls and send free messages to iPhone, Android, Windows and Blackberry phones, as well as other Macs and PCs. Users can also send short video and audio messages and play games with other LINE friends. With 340 million registered users worldwide, LINE brought in $338 million in revenue in 2013, $120 million of which came in the 4th quarter alone (a 450% increase over 4th quarter 2012 earnings).  

A large portion of this revenue came from the sale of “stickers,” the latest app monetization craze. Stickers are essentially large emoticons that you can download and use in messaging apps in addition to text, pictures, and video. Laugh all you want, sticker sales are turning into big business in the app world. According The Next Web, LINE is raking in over $10 million per month in sticker sales.

Stickers. Who knew?

WeChat- Mobile Messaging/Shopping/Gaming

China-based WeChat is an app that offers a little bit of everything to its users- from live text, voice, group and web chatting and gaming to shopping and banking. Boasting 300 million users, WeChat is the most used app by millions of Chinese, although it is starting to make inroads in other parts of Asia, along with Africa, the US and Europe.

WeChat makes money by selling games and integrating online payment functions that encourage shopping through the app- average revenues of $7 per user point to the success of this monetization strategy. As reported in Quartz, the app is expected to bring in revenues of $1.1 billion in 2014 and 40% more in 2015. In fact, Barclay’s has WeChat valued at about $30 billion, or about $95 per user; in this way, WeChat offers a striking example of the commercial potential  of Chinese mobile consumer market.

Tango- Voice and Video Messaging/Gaming

Founded in 2009, Tango describes itself as “the leading all-in-one social networking app.” It offers users free text, voice and video chatting, along with gaming and, thanks to a partnership with Spotify, music sharing. According to the company website, Tango works on iPhones, iPod touch, hundreds of Android phones and Windows Phone devices, as well as tablets and PCs, and is used by more than 145 million people in 212 countries. In December of 2013, Tango launched its native ads initiative, introducing sponsored content into user feeds.

QuizUp- Gaming and Mobile Messaging

The self-proclaimed “biggest trivia game in the world,” QuizUp amassed 3 million registered users only three weeks after its launch on November 7th, 2013. With 10 million users just a few months later, QuizUp is now proving a legitimate phenomenon.

QuizUp is an uber-popular iPhone (and now iPad) trivia gaming app created by Icelandic start-up Plain Vanilla Games in which users can match up against friends or strangers to test their trivia acumen.  Players get points based on how quickly and correctly they answer a series of six questions; scores are then tallied and a winner is declared.

With over 200,000 questions covering hundreds of topic categories, it’s no mystery why QuizUp is catching fire. As you might expect, there is also a social messaging component to QuizUp; the app interface allows users to chat with the players they are matched up against. This chat function allows users to make connections with people who share their same interests. In theory, this will give the founders of QuizUp tons of potentially actionable (i.e. monetize-able) data about user interests and passions- information which could be used for ad retargeting purposes.

For now, only Apple users can QuizUp; plans are supposedly in the works for an Android app, although I am not aware of any official rollout date (me and my HTC- we always get screwed).  

The Appification of Social Media

Well, I could go on, but this post is probably starting to put you (and me) asleep. Suffice it to say, even though these 7 apps represent merely the tip of the social mobile (or mobile social) iceberg, they reflect a broader trend that is significant for marketers and businesses alike: the “appification” of social media. This appification, in turn, represents both a logical extension of the ascendency of mobile devices as well as a further evolution of social media adoption and integration on the part of the consumer.

As mobile devices continue to insinuate themselves into the fabric of our daily lives, we consumers are beginning to recognize the utility of mobile apps to inform us, to entertain us, to connect with others; mobile apps also simplify the user experience, allowing us to accomplish more with less effort.

In time, this profound trend- this subtle yet undeniable shift to social mobile apps- is something businesses and marketers should act on. For now, it is something they should know about.

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