The Growth of Mobile Messaging Apps in India: Numbers, Marketing and Challenges

Prasant Naidu
Prasant Naidu Founder, Lighthouse Insights

Posted on December 6th 2013

The Growth of Mobile Messaging Apps in India: Numbers, Marketing and Challenges

Mobile messaging apps hacked

There was a time when I used to ask friends if they were on Facebook while they were spending time on Orkut. Today, people ask me are you on WhatsApp or WeChat, when more or less I am done with Facebook. Times have changed and the media has already written a lot on how teens are busy spending time on different networks rather than Facebook. All these new networks are predominantly being driven by mobile in the mobile first world.

Mobile messaging apps or social messaging apps have been the biggest threat for the existing social networks. From Facebook to Twitter no one has denied the threat from mobile messaging apps. This has also led to the proliferation of dozens of messaging apps and the new trend that is catching up is the launch of enterprise messaging apps.

Right now the mobile messaging apps that are making the news globally are WhatsApp, WeChat, Line, Kakao Talk, Hike, Cubie to name a few. Jon Russell from TNW does a decent job in listing 22 best mobile messaging apps and explaining their features which makes it a worthwhile read.

Experiencing a mobile revolution in the country, India has jumped on to adopt the new way of communication. Though the adoption rate hasn’t been anything close to the South East Asians, still it has given ample reasons for global messaging apps to open shop in the country, form telecom partnerships and introduce localized features to entice Indians.

Among the present generation of the messaging apps that have a clout in the country, WhatsApp, the California based messaging app, leads the race but the second position in the country is being contested between local players like Hike and global players like WeChat, Line, Viber and Nimbuzz. Though Facebook Messenger and Blackberry BBM, the grandfather of the messaging apps, have a prominence in the country but there have been no reports in terms of India numbers.

Numbers define the game

The growing numbers have scared the existing social media networks. Though there has been a slight concern on the numbers being boasted by these messaging apps, one can’t deny the fact that the users prefer communication over their mobiles rather than on the web.

WhatsApp – 300M plus Active Users Globally and 30M from India

Looking at the present set of numbers released by the messaging companies, WhatsApp leads the race globally as well as in the country. The messaging app founded  by Brian Acton and Jan Koum in 2009, had shared in the month of August that it had crossed 300 million active users.

WhatsApp India

During the same time the company also revealed that the app processes 11 billion sent messages and 20 billion received messages, or 31 billion total on a daily basis. The app also sees 325 million photo uploads each day.

Talking about international users, the company shared that it is witnessing more than 20 million active users from the country. Later the Indian numbers got a revision in November, when Neeraj Arora, business development head, WhatsApp, revealed in an interview to CNBC TV18 that the app is now witnessing 25 million active users from the country. However, the latest numbers revealed today have added up to 30 million active users. Apparently, WhatsApp is adding 5 million users every month in India.

Hike – 5M plus users

The free Indian messaging app, Hike which is less than a year old, had last shared in the month of April, 2013 that it has more than 5M users. Later the app – which is backed by Bharti Soft Bank, a joint venture between Bharti Enterprises and Japanese operator SoftBank, also Hike’s parent company – announced a set of new features that might spike its user base. Talking to TNW, Kavin Bharti Mittal, Head of Product and Strategy Bharti SoftBank shared that the addition of European language support might help the app for a global push to achieve the 10 million download mark that it is aiming for.

The app has not revealed India specific numbers and of late we haven’t heard anything from the company.

WeChat – 272M plus monthly active users and 100M from international users

The Chinese messaging app from Tencent, globally known as WeChat, has been posing a stiff competition to WhatsApp of late when it comes to numbers. While revealing its Q3 2013 earnings report, Tencent stated that WeChat has 271.9 million monthly active users in Q3. The latest numbers represent both the Chinese and global numbers making it up by 15.3 percent from Q2, and up 124.3 percent from the same time a year ago.

However, it didn’t reveal the latest overseas numbers during the earnings call. Back in the month of August, it had shared that WeChat has crossed 100 million registered user accounts outside China. During the same time the company had also claimed a strong presence in markets like India, Malaysia, Mexico and Philippines. Countries like Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand are also supporting WeChat’s growth.

Line – 300M registered users and 10M from India

The latest to enter the country, the popular Japanese mobile messaging app Line has recently revealed that it has more than 300 million registered users. The app backed by Line Corp, a unit of South Korea’s biggest Internet search provider NHN Corp which added 100 million users in last four months, had entered India in the month of May, 2013.

LINE India 10 Million users

Within three weeks of its existence, the app revealed to have crossed the 5 million mark and later it revealed that the app had crossed 10 million users within its first quarter. Further to it, the app that is in use in 230 countries globally, and is ranked first in the free app category in 60 countries, wishes to double its user base by the end of the year.

Viber – 200M registered users and 15M from India

Viber Media, the firm that was launched at the end of 2010 was known for its VOIP feature but today it is a fully grown cross platform mobile messaging app too. The app that recently released version 4.0 with features like ‘Push to Talk’ and message forwarding to any group or contact, new conversation backgrounds and group conversations with upto 100 participants, has more than 200M users globally.

Besides, Viber is eying India too considering the ever growing penetration of mobiles in the country. The app has already stated that it has more than 15M registered users till date.

In addition to the popular ones, there is Nimbuzz which is again dwelling between providing cheap international calls and a messaging app. The company says that it has 25 million registered users in the country but it is more focused on disrupting India’s international calling business which is worth a cool $1.5 billion.

Blackberry’s BBM and Facebook Messenger are in the race too but it would be a while before we get some clear specifics. After Blackberry officially made BBM available on various platforms, the messaging app has got a major spike in countries like Indonesia and South Africa.

Top_Messaging_Apps_Globally

Facebook Messenger, on the other side, has revamped its messaging app and is hoping to compete with the popular messaging apps in the country.

Marketing spends

Excluding WhatsApp, most of the other messaging apps are spending quite a bit on their marketing efforts. WhatsApp has built its user base on word of mouth and definitely has a first mover advantage in the country.

WeChat India has been in India from the first half of 2012, along with Ibibo in which it holds 20% stake. Initially it partnered with Bollywood movie releases in the country to get user traction. Later in May, 2013 the company took the marketing push further and roped in young Bollywood stars Parineeti Chopra and Varun Dhawan as brand ambassadors of WeChat.

The messaging app launched a 30-sec TVC on social to launch the brand ambassadors as well as to promote the feature of voice chat. Moving forward the brand has carried on the engagement further with the existing celebs by launching another set of TVCs and is trying to get more eye balls.

Commenting on the future marketing initiatives, Dennis Hau, GM, international business group at Tencent had previously said that the app is looking for partnership with Cafe Coffee Day, Big Bazaar, Goibibo, Yahoo Cricket, Tradus and Santa Banta. “We will first look to get as many users as possible and then move on to getting commercial alliances in place,” added Hau, who is also interested in tying up with telecom operators for bundled services going forward.

In fact Line did the same when it entered India in July, 2013, with two fresh TVCs talking about the unique features of the app. Both  the TVCs that were targeted to the youth promoted free voice chat feature and the one that offered free customized Stickers or rich emoticons.  However, the app now has roped in Bollywood celebrity Katrina Kaif as its brand ambassador and is hoping to grab 20 million users by the year end.

Revenue modes

Social messaging apps are not only growing in numbers but they are generating revenues too. Most of the messaging apps have declared their global revenues but it is too early to expect them to share India specific revenues.

While it is a known fact that Stickers form a bulk of the revenue for messaging apps, every app today is eying on the feature except WhatsApp. WhatsApp goes on a subscription model after a year of free service, the other revenue modes are in app purchases but it is still nascent.

Viber, which recently launched its latest version, also launched a marketplace for stickers or rich emoticons to spike revenues. According to Viber, the Sticker marketplace will offer both free and paid options to increase users.

Chumbak_Facebook_Stickers  

Facebook, which has been adding Stickers to its app, recently added a new set of Stickers targeting Indians courtesy Chumbak, the makers of quirky Indian souvenirs.  These stickers are available for free on both Messenger and Facebook apps on Android and iOS under Chumbak Expressions pack.

Line and Hike both have their own set of stickers appealing to the Indian masses. While most of these apps are now offering the stickers for free,  down the lane they might introduce paid stickers too.

Government challenges

Well everything in the messaging world in not rosy. While there is no doubt that conversations and commerce is and will happen over mobile messaging apps but technology has its own challenges. While there has been global pressure from governments to intercept the communication in the name of national security, similar concerns are looming large over India too.

WeChat has been the biggest worry for the Indian government post Prism revelations made by the Guardian. Popularity of the app has created tensions for the Home Ministry, the Telecom Department and the Cyber Emergency Response Team since the belief is that this might lead to possibly serious data security threats. Though Tencent spokesperson has clarified that the messaging app complies with Indian laws but the government seems unatisfied.

The government now wishes to approach the big brother – US who has the skills to snoop on any network anywhere in the world. India plans to raise the issue at the two day Indo-US Police Chiefs conference in the capital. India wants to get hold of the US technology which will decrypt conversations over various services like Viber, Whatsapp, Skype, Wechat and Blackberry messenger while complaining about service providers in US.

Regulating mobile messaging apps which is a new challenge for these apps could be a possibility since in the past it has done the same with Blackberry. It would be interesting to witness how other messaging companies will react to such growing demands from the present Indian government.

Within few days the numbers are going to definitely change. However, it would be interesting to see how marketers use the messaging platforms to connect with consumers for communication and commerce. Will the Indian consumers in the coming future avail the benefits like Chinese consumers are already availing from WeChat in the country?

Prasant Naidu

Prasant Naidu

Founder, Lighthouse Insights

Founder and Blogger at http://lighthouseinsights.in, Indian social and digital media news.

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