Messaging apps have the potential either to become digital platforms or to significantly enhance the power of current platforms because they so clearly deliver the three things that determine digital platform power: frequent interactions, emotional connection, and convenience. WeChat is for example already morphing into a digital platform offering, thanks to the deep pockets of its parent company, the Chinese Internet giant Tencent.
While today's opportunities are limited by consumers' reluctance to engage with brands on such intimate channels and by immature marketing tools, it is definitely time for marketers to experiment and to anticipate the next steps.
Indeed, you've surely heard of the second-largest acquisition in tech history, Facebook's purchase of WhatsApp for $19 billion. However, you may not have heard of KakaoTalk, Kik, Line, Secret, Snapchat, Tango, Viber, or Whisper.
These messaging apps are the new face of social in a mobile context.
Contrary to social media that are generally public broadcast mechanisms that facilitate one-to-many communications, a messaging app is a typically private, one-to-one or one-to-few communication and media tool optimized for mobile. Such smartphone apps can access your address book, bypassing the need to rebuild your social graph on a new service. As Evan Spiegel, the CEO of Snapchat, puts it, "We no longer capture the real world and recreate it online - we simply live and communicate at the same time."
Mobile allows users to seamlessly merge social offline experiences with online communications; offer more instantaneous and emotional forms of social communications; and provide users new ways to manage identities. The "selfie" phenomenon is an illustration of this broader trend and not just a mobile version of YouTube's narcissistic "broadcast yourself" tagline. Messaging apps offer users more control over their online identities. Some messaging apps, such as Secret or Whisper, are based on anonymity and allow users to assume and drop personalities, protecting their identity while allowing them to connect. This option is especially appealing to young adults, whose identities are more likely to be evolving. The fragmented nature of the social media ecosystem is inherent to the fact that individuals have multiple identities.
Today, messaging apps primarily offer peer-to-peer communication channels. However, they are well placed to reinvent themselves through the addition of innovative features and marketing opportunities that will enable marketers to:
- Benefit from more global reach than with their own mobile properties.
- Engage with customers where they spend a growing amount of their time.
- Add value by integrating services (e.g., games, location-based services, commerce, payments, etc.) into 21st-century portals.
At the crossroads of mobile and social, messaging apps will continue to innovate and will force digital platforms and established social media players to evolve.
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