Back in 2014, Mark Zuckerberg explained; “Messaging is one of the few things that people do more than social networking.” It’s no wonder then, that Facebook has since made steps to get into messaging, creating the Messenger platform and acquiring WhatsApp for a tidy $19 billion. As reported by the Economist;

‘over 2.5 billion people have at least one messaging app installed’ and ‘many teenagers now spend more time on smartphones sending instant messages than perusing social networks. WhatsApp users average nearly 200 minutes each week using the service.’

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the above, almost 70% of all online referrals come from dark social; the sharing of content through private channels such as emails, forums or messaging apps, rather than through traditional social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter.

So, how can messaging apps be utilised for business?

Private messaging is just that – private – and therefore it’s very hard for brands to find and measure activity by brand advocates. In addition, users might not be as forgiving of adverts and pop-ups on these as they are on traditional social media platforms, as the latter is a space where we are used to everyone, everywhere, broadcasting themselves all the time – including brands. However, if done carefully there are ways to engage message app users – just remember to proceed with caution:

Group chats

Adidas has been using direct messaging to find and target brand advocates. Through Twitter DMs and WhatsApp group chats, Adidas has been inviting ambassadors to private group conversations where they can reward them in a number of ways; releasing news through these channels first, sending out invitations to events and connecting advocates with sportsmen and women sponsored by the brand for exclusive online discussions.

The Snapchat-like updates that Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp have been seeing only serve to enhance what Adidas can offer. Florian Alt, senior director of global brand communications for Adidas Football, says;

“In the past, you could only send text, but now you can send video and image, which has opened doors. Using a mix of content we can reward advocacy with personalised approaches like inviting consumers into a dialogue with Adidas stars, offering live coverage from events or simply handle customers service queries”.

App Bots

A study by comScore shows that mobile users spend the majority of time in just three apps. So despite the well-worn phrase ‘there’s an app for that’ being great news for users, the downside for businesses and brands is that clearly users are not spending time discovering and using the apps that most companies make.

This is where bots come in. Bots help lesser-known apps integrate with the biggest app platforms, where users are spending the majority of their time (Facebook Messenger for example) so that users don’t have to switch to a separate app in order to carry out another task, like, say, ordering a taxi – a bot will enable them to order an Uber through the Messenger app.

Testament to the success of bots is China’s primary messaging app – WeChat, through which a large number of brands run bots:

According to Wired, bots within WeChat enable its 600m monthly users to book taxis, check in for flights, play games, buy cinema tickets, manage banking, reserve doctor’s’ appointments, and even apply for mortgages, without leaving the app”. (source: https://blog.bufferapp.com/messaging-apps)

Customer Service

With everything going digital, fewer people than ever are keen to pick up the phone to companies to make bookings, enquiries or complaints. Having the ability to directly message a brand provides immediate access for consumers. Having an online presence such as a website with a contact form or email address is a step in the right direction but instant messaging is where it’s at, as 48 per cent of people see messaging as less hassle than picking up the phone to call companies.

Testament to this is the use of Twitter as a customer service channel. Using apps like this to message companies means that interactions are collated altogether in one place (no need to search through emails or call history and notes). Bots go one step further to making communicating with companies easy and frictionless, without brands having to develop a standalone app of their own.

Brands should be well aware of the benefits of having a social media presence, but in the digital world things are always evolving, and users are clearly preferring messaging apps to social media platforms to chat with friends – it’s more private and more personal. It will pay for brands to have an eye on the opportunities that messaging apps offer; as with all marketing, you should aim to be where your customers – both present and potential – are.