The new revolution of mobile messaging apps began in a very innocuous manner. The basic idea was to bypass the charges involved in texting by creating an app that does essentially the same thing, but between smartphones over wireless networks. Although text messages are unlikely to go away anytime soon, for those who send hundreds of texts every day and are limited by a restrictive plan, messaging apps are a suitable alternative.
Messaging applications like Whatsapp, LINE and WeChat as well as more recent innovations like Snapchat, Jelly and Whisper have understood this requirement and taken these charges completely out of the equation. WhatsApp has around 450 million users. WeChat has around 350 million and dominates the Chinese market, where American giants are not allowed to operate. Snapchat, which is only a couple of years old, is closing in on 100 million users. Newer ones are also quickly expanding their footprints and getting millions of new users every week, tailored to the new, clean mobile look of the Internet.
So, the question here for the businesses is how to capitalize on this new social development. Surely something that has hundreds of millions of subscribers needs to be at least explored and experimented with, especially when traditional social networks like Facebook and Twitter are getting a bit overcrowded and reaching a point of saturation. The good news is that despite their newness, they are no longer a mystery to clever marketers. While they are likely to change and evolve in the near future, many brands have found out ways to use these apps to engage with their potential customers.
The main benefit of these apps is that they are capable of ensuring privacy and allow people to interact with each other without the entire world witnessing these interactions. Instead of craving for mass operations, businesses can use this opportunity to have more intimate conversations with their customers. At Coachella festival, Henineken sent cropped images as clues to its followers on Snapchat. Whoever identified the artists from these clues correctly got entry to events at the Heineken House, the branded stage of the beer giant. Essentially they used the unique characteristics of Snapchat to promote their branding event.
Offering exclusive and interesting content
Taco Bell made an exclusive film for Snapchat that combined footage from an MTV award function and tied it with a new product line. Due to the exclusive nature of the video people rushed to see it and made it a success. Similarly, HBO promoted its series Girls by making its stars post their images and letting the followers get them directly. They were posted regularly till the season lasted and was perfect for the younger followers who are obsessed with celebrity culture.
Chinese mobile brand Xiaomi created a stir by organizing flash sale of its handsets through WeChat last year. It was a huge success as it managed to sell 150,000 units in little time. Promoting or branding keeping long terms benefits is one thing. But why bother about all that when we can directly sell it anyways? These apps are yet to fine-tune themselves completely for such purposes but they will surely do it in the near future. Some effort may still be required in order to sell physical goods, but they can be extremely useful for easily selling items that can be consumed digitally. For instance, selling a song or a small piece of graphic art can be easily done through such apps.
The private as well as ephemeral nature of networks such as Snapchat may be ideal for customer service. People often have genuine queries and grievances and they do not like to discuss such things in public. Such apps are ideal for these purposes. General Electric is using Jelly to answer scientific queries while Travelocity is considering the same for helping travellers.
All these messaging apps are not necessarily replacements but compliments for the existing social networks. They are offering features that the traditional networks cannot provide due to their very nature. These apps are still very new but it can be said that they will grow very fast in the next few years, just like Facebook and Twitter grew five years ago. Business would do well if they would spend some time considering how to use them and secure that early bird advantage before others realize the same thing.