What can Brands Learn from the Rise of Social Messaging?
We have updated this blog post on 24/04/2015 due to updates on usage data from On Device Research and big changes with some of the social messaging apps, for example Facebook Messenger becoming a platform.
Fred Wilson, an influential venture capitalist sparked controversy recently by announcing that the “social media phase of the Internet ended” in 2014. Now, before everyone frantically fires up Facebook or Twitter – they are still there. Phew! So then, what exactly did Fred mean?
In much the same way as the (very tired) proclamation ‘SEO is dead, content is king!’ that’s not exactly what Fred was saying. What he means, and I am inclined to agree with him, is that while social platforms still exist and hold their places very well, we’re entering a new social phase: messaging. While messaging isn’t exactly the new kid on the block, it’s fair to say that it’s fast climbing the ranks. So what can this be attributed to?
Facebook and Twitter both saw drops in usage by teens in 2014, though this differs in the UK and USA, as we can see in the table below:
Sources: bloomberg.com, globalwebindex.com
Figures for Snapchat and WhatsApp are notoriously hard to come by – although Snapchat does now have over 100 million monthly active users, with over 50% of those in the 18-24 range.
With trust cited as a big reason for departing Facebook, it’s curious that people still use and believe other Facebook-owned products to be private. Perhaps Ello, the ad-free social network that arrived in a flourish last year, missed a trick by opting to be a social network rather than a messaging app. I suspect the target audience is current adult Facebook users, but can we, the neo-luddites, really be bothered to start over? I don't know anyone who's active on the platform.
Do you use Ello? If so I’d love to hear from you – drop me a comment below.
Despite talk of teens thinking Facebook is uncool, no other social platform has come anywhere near toppling the behemoth. Google+ is still somewhat of an unknown entity and the hype around Ello died down relatively quickly, despite promising to treat its users as *gasp* people, rather than products.
As we can see from the table above, in just one year Snapchat and WhatsApp have shot up from being overlooked in terms of usage-tracking to being used by over 40% and 20% of the US and UK teen populations, respectively. This provides a valuable opportunity for insight and marketing activity among brands. Mashable has extolled the virtues of Snapchat as a storytelling tool in a recent article, saying “Brands, from publishers to advertisers, are going to become a bigger part of the Snapchat ecosystem.”
The opportunity for these social messaging apps to add mobile payments into their platforms is one that is growing rapidly too, with Snapchat’s ‘Snapcash’, Facebook Messenger and WeChat. There is a demand for this as well, with users being increasingly keen on the ability to transfer money via mobile messaging apps.
Here at Fresh Egg we believe there is definitely an opportunity for insight, and where budget allows, the potential for marketing investment. The first ad rolled out on the platform was a creepy twenty second trailer for horror film Ouija (Universal Pictures), which garnered a lot of response online.
How does online research match up against real-world research?
Interested to see if research I’ve found online matches ‘the real world’, I conducted a miniature study of two demographics at Fresh Egg – the apprentices and the (slightly older, ahem) inbound marketing team. The results were, in fact, broadly similar to online findings.
Ranked in order of preference, we can see that Snapchat is popular with the younger demographic but not so much with the older crowd.
Interestingly, Instagram and WhatsApp ranked lower than anticipated with the apprentices, but by looking at sentiment, a more comprehensive picture is formed:
- Facebook – News Feed algorithm changes, cluttering of ads and game requests are unpopular. Many in both groups use the platform largely for event organisation, or out of habit
- Facebook Messenger – An alternative to WhatsApp for some, while others are reluctant to use it due to feeling ‘forced into it’ and questioning its security. However, in terms of usage numbers, forcing people to use a separate app (rather than keeping messages within the Facebook app itself) has been a huge success. With 600 million people using it every month (including 63% of UK smartphone users), its transition into a both a payment system and app platform, and the fact it is now desktop friendly, the future looks bright for Messenger
- Twitter – Scored highly for both professional and personal use among the older group, with the younger group being more passive. Popular as a news source
- Instagram – Popular in both groups and one of the fastest growing social sites. Enjoyed for visual content, engagement and simplicity. However, if ads increase, this may change
- Snapchat – Much more popular with the younger group; barely used by the older group
- WhatsApp – Popular in both groups. Liked for simplicity, cost-effectiveness and privacy/as an alternative to Messenger
What other reasons are there for the move to social messaging?
The way we consume information and how we communicate is changing. We’re more visually-orientated than ever; something I put down to the fact most of us are fairly time-poor. The humble ’like’ now suffices as a full response in most scenarios, and emoji is becoming more widely accepted, even in business communications (I’m still waiting for a unicorn emoji, personally).
Here are some of the potential influencers for the shift:
Facebook now has more post privacy options than you can shake a stick at, but why go to the trouble of tailoring every post to a specific audience when you could simply send a message or set up a group on Messenger or WhatsApp? Twitter has fewer options – directly Tweeting someone will only be unseen by others if all parties have no mutual followers. While you can send photos (and soon videos) in Twitter DMs, links were restricted in 2014
Video is booming and memes are still going strong. While both Facebook and Twitter are making video consumption easier – Facebook now sees 4 billion video views a day – Facebook’s late 2013 News Feed algorithm change to demote ’low quality‘ posts such as memes could be another trigger for the shift
Probably the most important influence, mobile and tablet use is still rising, with wearable tech the new boom market. Before smartphones everyone used SMS as an alternative to phone calls, and still do. It’s possible that people prefer to use their data and SMS plans to contact those who they really need/want to, rather than sending an update to their entire network. These mobile-first social messaging apps are creating a new ecosystem, one that SMS and even the older social networks such as Google+ and Facebook are struggling to hold onto.
To make this clearer, in 2014 more than 50 billion messages a day were sent across six mobile messaging apps; iMessage, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Snapchat, BBM and WeChat – this is double the amount of SMS text messages.
Voice activation still needs refinement – maybe users don’t trust the likes of Siri and Cortana to convey the right message in the public domain, and fear of ending up on a Buzzfeed fail list is too much to bear
Facebook has started to address these issues with the implementation of Messenger as a standalone product, Facebook At Work, and the purchase of WhatsApp and Instagram (as well as an attempted purchase of Snapchat). Twitter only has Vine as a standalone product at present ( 40 million users at the last count) but seems to be releasing updates similar to Facebook (including ads, native video, the purchase of video-streaming app Periscope and potentially even a timeline algorithm), so it’ll be interesting to see where that leads.
Twitter co-founder Evan Williams may not care if the platform has fewer users than Instagram (288 million at the last count), but the company had better up its game if it wants to stay in play – just look at this Tweet from Eli Langer of CNBC.
Facebook: 1.35 billion users WhatsApp: 700 million Messenger: 500 million Instagram: 300 million *Mark Zuckerberg owns all four— Eli Langer (@EliLanger) January 6, 2015
Of course, user count is a top-line metric – there may be fewer active users – but it’s still important.
What are the challenges of social messaging for brand owners and marketers?
While ads appear within Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and more recently Snapchat, WhatsApp charges $0.99 per year after a year’s use rather than use advertising. In-app ads run the risk of being perceived as too intrusive, although there is evidence that clickthrough rates for ads are higher in-app than on mobile. Since announcing its opt-in ads at a price tag of $750,000 per ad, Snapchat has halted its brand story adverts. However, it has hinted they may come back in a different form: “We’re always fine tuning to ensure we deliver the best possible experience for our community”.
Facebook has come under heavy scrutiny for privacy issues in Messenger, with Android and iPhone users complaining that the required permission levels violate their privacy. Privacy is a contentious issue; users agree to certain data collection activities on sign-up, but often dislike the terms
200,000 private Snapchat user photos were leaked online in 2014, but the ‘Snappening’ apparently hasn’t damaged growth. As part of ongoing anti-terrorism talks, the USA and UK are discussing surveillance plans to ‘try to strike a balance between security and privacy’. Although David Cameron hasn’t exactly been clear on what he proposes, many people fear he will legislate a ban on end-to-end encryption; the bedrock of secure online data
Content shared away from the platform it was first shared on creates a data gap for marketers, and the potential for increased loss with the rise of social messaging will need to be addressed. Brands may want to consider integrating social messaging apps with browsers asTelegram and as of 21st January, WhatsApp do, and adding a social app share button to online content (as can be seen in the image below)
Ofcom reports that we now spend more time “using media or communications” than we spend asleep (eight hours 41 minutes vs. eight hours 21 minutes) and that total daily consumption has increased by two hours since 2010. That’s a huge increase, which can undoubtedly be attributed to the rise of mobile and dual-screens, meaning there are still huge opportunities for marketers and social platforms to tap into.
What can social platforms do to bridge the gap between social networks and social messaging?
- Continue to improve native video, including in-platform editing
- Refine privacy settings to appeal to a wider audience
- Promote on-platform group functionality
- Create separate products (e.g. Messenger, Facebook At Work)
- Integrate social messaging apps with browsers
- Ensure a social messaging share button is available across the web
- Following in WeChat’s footsteps in China, develop into a platform (i.e. become more than a simple messaging app by offering additional features such as games, stickers, payment systems and even taxi services all within the app). The likes of Facebook Messenger, Snapchat and Kik are currently already doing this
While it doesn't look like the likes of Facebook and Twitter are going anywhere anytime soon, they, and other social platforms will need to keep evolving in order to keep up with the changing landscape of social media.