It's official - the top four instant messaging applications now have more active monthly users than the top four social networks, and because of this, brands are scrambling to get a strategy in place to take advantage of the shift. Fear not. Here's an overview of all you need to know to understand the challenges and opportunities of the new age of instant messaging.
Facebook, WeChat, and Dark Social
Facebook made headlines in 2014 when it purchased messaging app WhatsApp for a whopping $22 billion. Did Mark Zuckerberg fall for a gimmick? Far from it.
Early on, Facebook identified the increasing interactions taking place outside the public domain of Facebook. This is called "Dark Social" and has nothing to do with "The Force" or Jedi mind tricks. Rather, it refers to how users share information via channels called "private" (for instance links shared through emails or messaging apps).
Internet marketing analysts RadiumOne, claim that 82% of total shares now occur in the domain of the "dark social web." But the phenomenon of the messaging app is not just linked to Facebook or Whatsapp. On the other side of the globe, China's mega social media platform WeChat, is changing the way the Chinese interact.
In fact, WeChat is expanding the boundaries of personal freedoms in China - what started as a mobile application is now an all-in-one social platform with its integrated WeChat Wallet, online ordering features, and the WeChat City Services Urban for setting doctor appointments and paying bills.
A more sensitive side to big brands
Indeed, the adoption of multi-functional "life management" messaging apps in the West could eventually alter brand communication as we know it.
But integrating the environment of Dark Social presents a challenge to the prevailing logic. With Dark Social, it's no longer the brands that initiate dialogue with their consumers, but users who initiate a dialogue with the brands. This means that the usual marketing techniques no longer apply, making advertising harder.
Now, brands need create a more personalized, human connections, whilst also maintaining the privacy of their audience, not exactly a traditional approach for most large brands.
Artificial Intelligence & Human Beings, a modern love story
To adapt to the changing social/business environment, brands are increasingly reaching out to consumers through messaging apps.
Companies such as start-up Feeligo propose that advertisers use private conversation areas through branded stickers to best connect with their audiences.
These customized digital stickers immerse users in the universe of the brand, and are available free within the platforms. Chat Bots are another blossoming trend in digital marketing - these applications support automated conversations between brands and users by reproducing the codes of a conversation. As a result, it's now possible to order an Uber via message and manage reservations and airline tickets through the "KLM bot".
Convenient, fast, and easily accessible from a smartphone, bots could revolutionize online sales and give birth to the "e-commerce conversational," - a whole new Social AI customer service.
In spite of prevailing trends, it is always prudent to stay cautious and maintain a diverse approach that serves the best of both worlds: AI and human.
Discretion as a selling point
So what does tomorrow hold? Fun, of course. Oh, and big challenges for brand marketing too. They'll have to monitor their dosing to carefully maximize positive engagement without being intrusive or violating the privacy of their consumers.
One solution? Work on highly customized approaches that make sense. This means recognizing those important moments when the brand is needed, but when customers wouldn't necessarily want to share it publicly.
The Hyatt Hotel chain serves as an excellent example of this solution in action. Guests can order towels or make use of the room service via Messenger.
To follow Hyatt's lead into the messaging economy, brands will have to review their strategies and truly understand the DNA of the messaging app, it's the only way to determine the apps's best private uses in cultivating private one-to-one relationships with the users.
And such efforts will most certainly pay off. The push for more powerful instant messaging applications is gaining steam every day, and this "craze" is not about to die any time soon.