The Rise Of Social Messaging

Brands should be aware of the increasing importance of messaging and exploit its enormous potential in order to be visible.

The Rise Of Social Messaging

Mobile-only social messaging platforms are taking on established social networks to become the leading platform for young consumers, offering brands a chance for one-to-one and deeply engaged communications.

Messaging apps are a growing business, driven by their popularity amongst the younger generation. Research carried out by content marketing agency Headstream for U.K. broadcaster BBC Three showed that 62% of the average waking day for 16 to 24 year-olds was spent on media and communications—and the highest proportion of this time was spent on messaging.

The leader in this brave new world is China’s WeChat. Although not available in the U.K. at the moment, the Tencent-owned messaging platform has seamlessly integrated itself into the lives of millions of users in China, making it the largest and most profitable messaging platform in the world.

WeChat’s popularity is mainly due to the many diverse functions it supports, unlike established social networks. Users can chat to friends, but also use it for purchases, banking, and a lot more besides. Quality content is also encouraged as WeChat limits the number of communications that brands are able to broadcast each day to avoid overexposure.

While it hasn’t reached European markets yet, the demand is already there and will grow. Research we did found the top mobile services used by the younger age group are Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Snapchat and Skype. It’s a clear indication of where the audience is shifting and the extent to which social messaging is challenging the more established social networks.

The Future Is … Something Like WeChat?

WeChat has more than 549 million monthly active users, so it is not surprising that the platform is already viewed by some of the big brands as a legitimate extension to their digital marketing campaigns. What does brand use of the platform tell us about how the future of social messaging could evolve and how it fits into digital strategy?

1. A Seamless Online/Offline Experience

Campaigns on WeChat are often led by social activity first, with practical extensions to this being activated in the actual stores. This gives a seamless online-offline experience.

U.K. luxury powerhouse Burberry, for example, announced a digital partnership with WeChat in 2014 and ran a campaign on the platform in tandem with its flagship store opening in Shanghai.

Within the app, followers of the brand were able to interact with images of London and Shanghai skylines by shaking, swiping, or tapping their devices, while also being able to check out products on mobile and discuss their purchase history in one-to-one customer-service conversations.

Offline, the brand experience continued with dynamic illuminations on the outside of the building and an innovative use of technology inside. Selected pieces of the collection had radio-frequency transmitters woven into them that would unlock unique video content on mirrors that turned into screens.

2. One-To-One Communications

WeChat users are reassured by one-to-one communications directly with brand customer relations, where they are able to talk about all aspects of their experiences privately. Users are also able to place orders in a personal-shopping-like manner or make general product enquiries. Having the entire brand-to-customer conversation in one place within the messaging app gives both the brand and the customer a single point of reference, removing friction from the customer-service exchange. For brands it provides valuable insights into the customer journey.

YSL Beauty used WeChat as a personal communication channel in its “Kissing Habits” campaign. Users were asked for their gender and star sign before answering a series of eight questions about kissing. They were then given a recommendation for a lipstick colour which could be shared publicly on the platform. The private nature of the conversation allowed the brand to gather a more detailed level of personal information from their consumers.

3. Using Diverse Phone Functions For Data Input

Brands in Asia are able to create more diverse and interactive campaigns when a platform is able to convert a wider number of phone features, such as sound and motion, into meaningful data. These platforms are not mobile first, they are mobile only. In this way brands are seamlessly able to integrate their campaigns with users’ everyday smartphone behaviours.

In Asia, voice messages are particularly popular because it is difficult to type in Chinese characters, so some brands have incorporated this into their campaigns. The mobile voice search application Chumen Wenwen (a Chinese version of Siri) is entirely integrated with the backend of WeChat so that users can speak to the platform and pull back search results. For example, a voice message to the account asking “Which movies are showing around me?” will produce an automatic reply with a list of movies around the user’s current location, which can then be booked with a few clicks.

PepsiCo made use of voice functionality in a New Year campaign called “Bring Happiness Home.” Users could record an audio message to be mixed in with the soundtrack of a well-known “Bring Happiness Home” theme song to send privately to family or friends, creating a personal moment aided by the brand.

What does it mean for brands?

There is huge potential for brands to capitalise on the increasing importance of messaging. Simply put, it is the media channel that dominates throughout the day for a significant proportion of the population. It’s where brands need to be in order to be visible, especially to the youth audience.

While existing platforms don’t support all the functions of WeChat just yet, it is inevitable that current players in the market as well as new challengers will be looking to WeChat for inspiration.

The move by Facebook to open up to app developers, and the addition of supported in-app payments, demonstrate how seriously the messaging trend is being taken as it challenges traditional social networks.