What's Behind The Mobile Message Boom?

Our latest data shows that WhatsApp is now the most popular messaging app – being used by 39% of the mobile audience to push Facebook’s own Messenger service into second position (38%). 

Naturally, this global headline masks some notable local trends. WeChat is still the dominant playerin China (and by quite some way: an impressive 84% of the Chinese mobile internet population are using it). Meanwhile, Kakao Talk dominates in South Korea, Line is top in Taiwan and as many as 50% of teens in the UK and USA are wedded to Snapchat – a demographic which WhatsApp is yet to conquer in quite the same way. Facebook’s Messenger tool has also received a significant boost from the network’s decision to remove the messaging functionality from its main app; in the UK, for example, its numbers jumped from 27% in Q4 2013 to 40% in Q2 2014 – and this is a pattern we’re highly likely to see in other countries now that this change has been rolled out globally.

Across the board, though, one pattern remains pretty consistent here: all messaging services are continuing to enjoy buoyant rises and are capturing more and more of the conversations that used to take place inside social networks proper or via SMS. We’re still using the big platforms like Facebook but for fewer things; in fact, about 50% of WhatsApp users in the UK confirm that they’re now using chat apps far more than text messages or networks. 

Having snapped up WhatsApp, that’s not an issue for Facebook per se; it’s still hosting all of these conversations, just in a slightly different space. It’s likely to be more of a concern for the other big networks, though, and that’s why we can expect to see more acquisitions and innovations in this area over the next year. Only last month, Quack! Messenger became the latest name to enter the arena, promising UK users a chance to earn money in return for watching “wanted” advertising during conversation breaks (as it has already been doing in Spain and Italy under the name Chad2Win).

But as the messaging space gets more and more crowded, what exactly do users want from messaging services? 

According to our research among 500 UK WhatsApp users, convenience and reach stand out as key drivers; two-thirds say that mobile messaging services are the easiest way to send photos and videos, with a similar proportion claiming that they use them because most of their friends/family do, too. Cost is another big factor: people like the idea that they are saving money, especially when sending messages internationally. 

Our research also shows why Mark Zuckerberg and Co. have been treading so carefully in relation to advertising and potential monetization of WhatsApp (beyond its nominal $1/year fee): quite simply, users are extremely uncomfortable with their data being used to make money. Over three-quarters of current WhatsAppers believe that Facebook has no right to sell their personal information for the purposes of ad revenue, while an overwhelming 85% are concerned about how their conversations might be being used by companies behind-the-scenes. What’s more, only a quarter of users support the basic model that underlies WhatsApp and similar tools: that personal info can be used by companies in return for their services being free to use. Security and privacy are extremely important too. More than 4 in 10 say they want to know that a deleted conversation really has been deleted – and is not stored somewhere without them knowing it. 

For mobile chatters, then, privacy really does matter. Of course, real-life behaviors do not always reflect expressed opinions; large majorities typically continue to use services even if they have reservations about them. Nevertheless, loyalty in the mobile messaging space isn’t yet as ingrained as it is elsewhere: no single tool has established itself as the global messaging app par excellence and a mighty 84% of the WhatsApp audience say that they would start using a new app if their friends and family were on it too. In short, it’s easier for messaging apps to win new users away from other services that it is for networks to poach people from Facebook.

By owning the two most popular messaging apps, Facebook certainly has the potential to dominate this space as it does with networking more generally – something which helps to contextualise WhatsApp’s price tag as well as the forced migration of conversations to the Messenger app. But the contest is far from over.

Next story loading loading..