The sheer tonnage behind mobile messaging monster apps like WhatsApp, Chinese hit WeChat, Japan’s LINE and now BlackBerry's dark horse BBM is making marketers salivate. The latest giant sucking sound is that of eyeballs rushing into these chat apps. How do brands take advantage of them beyond just splattering them with banners? Finding a native, unobtrusive way into people's personal conversations is not going to be easy. Notice how person-to-person phone calling never really generated much of an in-stream ad model, even in a century of calling.
We get a glimmer of what native advertising for chat apps might look like in a new campaign within the Kik app, which claims 95 million users. Sony/Columbia's boy group phenom One Direction gets a high-profile promo push in the app by inviting users to opt in to a “1D Kik Card” for the group that plants the band into your main menu. When activated, the card includes a stream of social activity from the group, a gallery of videos, a path to chatting with friends and sharing the 1D assets. In a cagy bit of m-commerce, the Kik Card also unlocks more content when 5,000 members buy the new album direct from an in-app link. At last count, a day into the program, I saw only 770-odd albums sold within the app.
IPG Media Lab brokered the Kik Sony partnership and built the program. In my use of the app, the integration is pretty good. 1D essentially become another channel of content in the menu, just like YouTube video or reddit funny pictures. It becomes another tool for fans that can weave its way into conversations with assets their friends will appreciate. The basic concept is to use the chat app as another kind of media platform -- but one driven by the chatters themselves and the way they use the assets. You don't interrupt the chat so much as give people something to chat around and about.
For the messaging apps themselves, this program at least hints at the ways in which they could monetize by optimizing the functionality for media sharing. As it is, Kik is still pretty clunky in that regard, since it feels as if one moves in and out of lean-back media consumption mode and lean in conversation. In some ways the chat apps might aspire to virtualizing the ways in which two friend converse now with their cell phones in hand. They use it to look up and show things they have seen to one another. The more perfect chat app makes it even easier to pull diverse media into a conversation that one can clip, quote, share and point to in order to have a discussion around.
It is this transition from social networks to media platform that makes the current stage of social media so interesting. My understanding is that Facebook itself is starting to move away from the social network label and prefers to talk about itself instead as a “platform.” Part and parcel of this seems to be a new competition and interest among the networks for traditional media. Suddenly, when Twitter cozies up to TV and vice versa, Facebook touts its value as a traffic driver to media partners. LinkedIn buys Pulse and starts bolting a news feed (the real old-fashioned “news” kind) into its model.
What appears to be dawning on these social nets is that people don't just talk to one another. We talk about stuff -- what we hear, see and encounter through the day, much of it media. Most of the current social media sharing tools really start at the media side with share buttons that use the social net as a distribution network. The object is the inspiration. “I want to share this” is the impulse. But I wonder if a more genuine social "media“ chat platform is one in which the conversation is the hub activity and the network provides tools that let the user pull into the flow of the conversation items people want to share. This One Direction promotion edges toward that model.
Imagine a mobile messaging app where the user profile and social graph helps the app push share-able media (including sponsored ones) that the user and her group are most likely to appreciate and want to discuss. After all, how many wassups? can a chat room stand? Come on. Idealize social media all you want, but the most popular messaging app in mobile is actually a pun of the banal exchange that typifies messaging. We might like to think that a pure social network is powered by people and their existing and new relationships. “The people are the content.” Yeah, yeah, yeah. But that isn't how most conversations work, especially with the semi-strangers who occupy most of our social nets. The best parties don't happen because the room has good acoustics and a nice flow. It has a host who not only knows how to bring the right people together, but also knows how to get conversations going -- brings in a game. Most of the social nets I have used are only part of the way there in actually constructing environments where conversations have the kind of multimedia qualities they have in life.
This is a way of thinking about social networks and media that is close to Buzzfeed's social news idea. To them news is defined by what people want to talk about. Content is a combination of the original news item and the conversation that erupts around it. Flip that model inside out and you have a social network that provides targeted fodder for discussion. They curate both people and objects of conversation. The network gives people a way to talk. The media and marketing brands have the opportunity to give people something to talk about.