The Rising Importance of Mobile Messaging Platforms

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As mobile messaging apps gain popularity with every passing year, they are poised to play a far bigger role in the overall media mix.

Since the arrival of Blackberry Messenger, most people simply cannot imagine a world without instant messaging platforms. We use them on a daily – if not hourly – basis for both social and work purposes, creating different groups to streamline and focus our communications. Far from a local craze, instant messaging platforms are a worldwide phenomenon, with both their user base and scope increasing with every passing year.

According to Flurry, a U.S. based mobile analytics firm, the use of mobile messaging apps grew by 103 percent worldwide during 2014. Facebook-owned WhatsApp is arguably the leading service, with more than 700 million monthly active users. Other popular options include WeChat, with over 400 million monthly active users; Viber, which reports it has more than 200 million monthly visitors; and Line, Japan’s most popular messaging app, with over 170 million users. In South Africa, WhatsApp has undoubtedly replaced Blackberry Messenger as the app of choice – enjoying massive popularity since it entered the scene.

Arthur Goldstuck, MD of technology consultancy World Wide Worx, has indicated that WhatsApp has passed the 12 million users mark in SA, with rival WeChat hovering around 5 million users (Blackberry Messenger and Mxit are both on course to drop below 4 million users this year, based on estimates).

As with other consumer technology trends, the key to success lies with the end-user experience.  With WhatsApp, for example, users love the fact that it’s so simple to add people to their network of connections – all they need is a mobile number. Some experts call this the ‘findability’ factor – an element that rivals WeChat and Blackberry Messenger haven’t yet seemed to get right in the local market. Like social networks, these apps are free, with users paying for more advanced features.

When looking ahead at the future of these apps, it is very possible that they will soon serve a purpose that goes beyond instant messaging. WhatsApp recently launched voice calling, while WeChat is already more than a messaging tool – it is essentially a social platform (with instant messaging being merely one of many services it offers). In China, WeChat is used to make payments, book plane tickets and play games. According to reports, WeChat is now one of the major platforms for Chinese consumers to find new mobile games: last quarter, Tencent’s mobile games revenue alone was around $420 million, say analysts. In South Africa, WeChat’s unique microjobbing service, M4JAM (Money for Jam) is proving to be useful, having hosted multiple campaigns for over 40 major local brands since its launch six months ago.

The other mobile messaging apps are not being left behind the trend. On Snapchat, users can send money to one another inside the app, while Line lets people pay for things at physical retail stores using Line Pay, a dedicated payments service. In addition, the New York Times reported that very soon, popular media outlets like ESPN, Vice and CNN ‘will be publishing original content directly to a new editorial section in Snapchat’.

The growing role and importance of these mobile messaging apps in the media mix can also be gauged by taking a quick look at the heady company valuations. Facebook forked out over $20 billion for WhatsApp, for example, while Rakuten, a leading Japanese online retailer, acquired Viber for $900 million. With entrepreneurs and innovators around the world all vying for their moment of media glory, we can surely expect to see new and exciting developments in the fast moving world of mobile messaging apps.

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