Source: Mobile Leaders Alliance The emergence of social media platforms disrupted the advertising industry when it introduced a new way for audiences to connect. Facebook, the leading social network, provided a platform for people to connect, share pictures, and (through posts) communicate what was going on in their lives with their network. After social media become one of the pillars of the marketing industry, soon after companies like The Marketing Heaven started providing their services in order to help people and businesses reach a vast range of audience. Today, however, social platforms – including Facebook – have become more about content aggregation than communication. Therein lies the opportunity for messaging apps – to provide a platform for communication and bring social engagement to a whole new level, not just for personal networks, but for brands looking to engage 1:1 with consumers as well. When Facebook announced its plan to acquire Whatsapp for $19 billion dollars, a debate erupted in media and ad tech circles around the globe about whether this was a forward thinking, visionary move or a miscalculated decision by Zuckerberg, specifically as it relates to the numbers, which just didn’t seem to add up. At the time of its acquisition, WhatsApp was a start up messaging platform that was primarily popular in developing countries, but not widely used in the West. It was reported that the price tag for WhatsApp broke down to about an $80 CPA – a number that didn’t satisfy Wall Street in the slightest and it didn’t take long for them to show their disapproval. Following the acquisition announcement, Facebook saw stocks decline 5% in after hours trading. However, like so many other moves that have been questioned by Wall Street, this too was soon forgotten and the stock eventually recovered.
Today messaging app usage is exploding, with Millennials flocking to the likes of Viber, SnapChat, Kik, and Line. As of April 2015, WhatsApp alone reported more than 800 million monthly active users – 8% of which are in the U.S. – A figure that will only continue to grow, as it is expected that 2.5 billion users will connect via messaging-based apps by 2017. Thanks to its acquisition of WhatsApp and its (at the time) controversial decision to separate Facebook Messenger into its own platform – the social media giant is well positioned to be the leading messaging platform and amass millions of new Internet users as smartphones come to the developing world. The acquisition numbers finally make sense and the popularity of messaging apps has advertisers rethinking how they engage with millennial audiences. For those advertisers that want to increase awareness and boost interactions with their campaigns virally, WhatsApp has created a new ad opportunity. Consumers can easily click on a link, which automatically opens up a pre-populated message that they can then share with their inner-circle of trusted friends – a way to motivate action amongst a small group of highly engaged people, which has proven more effective than other traditional methods of social sharing. In Spain a chain of movie theatres saw great success when working with Sonata, a leading mobile advertising company, to provide a promotional offer for a free popcorn using this new product. The theaters were then able to attribute sales back to the campaign through on-site redemption of unique promotional codes by opted-in consumers. Their ability to reach movie goers within the WhatsApp environment was integral to this campaign’s success, not only because they saw higher engagement rates, but also as a result of the campaign’s ability to go viral. The integration with WhatsApp easily and organically extended the campaign’s reach and drove results offline. As we continue to witness the fragmentation of media, mobile marketers will have to pay attention to WhatsApp and other messaging platforms and think about how they can engage consumers on behalf of brands in new ways. Based on what I have seen thus far, messaging on mobile devices creates a seamless experience for advertisers to drive engagement with consumers (and their friends), digitizing the power of word of mouth marketing.