Message me, maybe : The new wave of Social Media ?

How do you send a thousand words in an instant ? Click & send. Done. I grew up in a world where photographs were generally meant to capture something in the past – the Kodak moment , as the famous ad goes. However, as the digital kids turn into consumers, it is fast changing into – let’s communicate via photographs, no more typing or talking. Want to show the massive crowd standing together in unity in your city?  Click it, Send it. Want to let your Argentinian friend know that you are waiting for her at Grand Central but no hablo espanol?  Take a quick video, Send it. Of course, as evidenced from the pre-historic cave paintings in El Castillo , expressing ourselves via images is not new. But – having a platform to go viral and reach millions is possibly changing the way we all now communicate.

Now – add to that a large dollop of instant messaging; messaging that enables constant communication and conversations that are never ending. And – voila the killer apps with millions of users!

Instagram announced in Dec 2014 Wednesday that it now has more than 300 million monthly active users, which basically means that it likely has about as many or more users than Twitter with about 284 million active users or so (as of the third quarter of 2014). Whatsapp, the messaging platform that allows people to share photos, videos, text or audio notes, now has more than 700 million active monthly users. Snapchat, a popular app with 15-24 year demographic now is reported to have about 100 million active monthly users. And of course, services such as WeChat and Line have taken Asia by storm. To provide some context, customers and thus audiences at this scale are hard to come by even for the world’s largest mobile operators

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The fundamental ideas that each of these apps are focused on – instant one-on-one messaging and support for multiple media (text, voice, images, video) – seem to be something that customers naturally gravitate towards as the mobile usage grows and becomes ubiquitous. Unlike the “many-to-many” connections we see with FB or twitter, these are places where users can actually talk to someone they actually care about without the pressure of having to maintain an image for their FB friends. The content is meant to be private or at least restricted to a group. And in the case of Snapchat, “just in the moment” and ephemeral. This whole mood is captured well by Andrew Watts , a typical teen at UT Austin on his blog (when talking about Instagram & teens):

“Everything about the application makes it less commercialized and more focused on the content, meaning more teens are inclined to visit it. When we do visit the application it is a much more pleasant experience so we are more inclined to Like and interact with the posts more. This increases our interaction with the application, meaning we will use it more, etc.”

These messaging apps are the new face of social in a mobile context.

The privacy angle does mean that these apps need to walk a fine line between content, marketing and privacy. However, that does not necessarily mean that these apps do not have ambitions to become platforms. They do and they are trying. For instance, on China-based WeChat third parties can connect with WeChat users through content, apps and services they build for the platform. Chinese consumers are already using WeChat to view entertainment and use location-based services or order a taxi, purchase airline tickets and more. In Thailand, the messaging app Line is experimenting with mobile commerce. It ran a series of Line Flash Sale events online. The products were as varied as Maybelline lipstick, Line’s own branded merchandises, and even a barbeque food store’s discount coupons.  Snapchat has started a limited ad program on non personal communication (such as the recent updates section). And as these platforms evolve, savvy marketers will experiment and find various ways to get their message across.

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Overall , 2015 seems like and exciting phase in the evolution of how we humans communicate, collaborate and evolve and sure have come a long way from the “message in a bottle”. Let the good times roll…

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