I predict that 2015 is going to be the year that chat apps play a key role for brands trying to reach Millennials.
Think about it. On established social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, Millennials can only be themselves to a certain degree. They have to constantly be aware of who they might offend — parents, teachers, employers, etc.—with even the most seemingly innocuous post. This is precisely the space that chat apps can claim. They are the new social refuge, a place where restrictions and filters can come off and where users can let loose with silly, crazy, irreverent posts that they can share with a select group of friends (versus anyone and everyone who can view their page).
As great as this sounds, many brands are wondering if it’s worth the extra time and capital to dive into yet another social platform. It is. The numbers speak for themselves.
The volume of chat app users is staggering. WhatsApp surpassed 600 million monthly active users in August 2014. Line reached 500 million monthly active users in late 2013. And WeChat has more than 470 million monthly active users today. To really drive the point home, consider the fact that Twitter has fewer than 300 million active monthly users. Every brand worth its salt is on Twitter. And check this stat out regarding Snapchat, which boasts a meager (H) 100 million+ active users: According to ClickZ, “50% of smartphone [owners] between the ages of 18 and 24 use the Snapchat app, as do 20% of consumers between the ages of 25 and 34.” This kind of market saturation with the coveted Millennial generation — by just one of the many chat apps out there, no less — is brand gold.
In short, chat apps are blowing up among Millennials, and this highly lucrative consumer group is using them to share everything they would on a traditional social network. For instance, after Facebook purchased WhatsApp in early 2014, it created a share button that brands could add to their mobile iOS sites. By May, both BuzzFeed and sites like USA Today’s viral sports site FTW saw WhatsApp shares rapidly exceed the number of shares on Twitter. People will digitally share puppy listicles and game-clinching sports plays anywhere they can.
Brands can’t afford to miss out on this opportunity. Many of the smart ones have already dipped their toes in the water. GE shares its feats of invention and encourages an interest in science on its Snapchat account. Oreo invited families to play together via its emoji canvas on WeChat and then print out the stickers they created. One Direction had a roaring success on Kik with its “ID Kik Card,” which allowed fans to access exclusive content, connect with fellow Directioners and purchase the album in one app. Not only are chat apps yet another platform on which to reach people, but they also allow brands to have more intimate, one-to-one conversations with consumers. Mass media simply can’t forge a connection or relationship quite this personal, meaningful or strong.
Right now, the main shortcoming of chat apps is the lack of data about traffic. Brands and media publishers are only able to measure the number of clicks, versus how many people see the links shared (if it’s a message to one person or a group of people), and manually shared copy-and-pasted links, etc. While this is currently chalked up to “dark social” traffic — i.e., traffic without actual referral data — there’s a good chance in a few years’ time that traffic will be trackable, which makes it imperative that publishers and brands get their chat app strategies together now.
Despite the lack of apparent data and the relatively uncharted waters of chat apps, brands would be wise to jump right in. A willingness to experiment — to try and learn what works to connect with Millennials on these new social platforms — is all that’s required to potentially stand out among the brands in these spaces. So what do you say? Wanna chat?