Intimacy at Scale: Chat Apps and the Community Marketing Revolution

There are now 19 billion more reasons to get your chat app marketing game in order.

Without a doubt, Facebook’s massive acquisition of WhatsApp—and the news that Google was willing to pay billions more—sounded the alarm. As the marketing industry’s focus suddenly turned to chat apps, a lot of people were surprised to read that almost a billion pieces of visual content are sent via WhatsApp (500+ million) and Snapchat (400 million) each day. That’s over twice as much as Facebook (350 million) and Instagram (50 million) combined.

But there’s a lot of confusion about what brands can actually do on these platforms. How do you scale to reach millions? Plus, isn’t Snapchat supposed to be dead by summer 2014?

It probably won’t, but that shouldn’t change your content strategy anyway. As the chart below from Ben Evans shows, a number of social messaging apps are seeing incredible growth.

The biggest thing that content marketers need to rethink with chat apps, is, well, the type of content they create. The article no longer reigns supreme, and companies need to think of how to use each content unit—”cards,” messages, “Snaps,” API calls, Tweets, FB posts, Vines, Stickers, iBeacon calls, game features, Google Now results, etc.— to reach consumers in a targeted, highly personal way. Mobile has no homepages.

The Web 2.0 model, where marketers could broadcast from a single point of entry to massive followings—such as Twitter, programmatic display ads, or Facebook—is giving way to a fractured ecosystem of communication services, where every single piece of content is its own portal to a brand. That’s especially true for WhatsApp, Snapchat, Tango, Line, and other chat apps, which are more personal, and thus, more engaging and targeted.

It’s a new challenge. Marketers can no longer rely on one-way, impersonal broadcast mediums to just dump content on people. Instead, they need to create authentic content that truly resonates in intimate mediums. That also means the risks are higher—the more personal a brand’s content becomes, the more explosive the backlash can be.

So what will content campaigns on chat apps actually look like?

Let’s take WhatsApp, for example. Marketing on the platform is still in the hypothetical and experimental stages. Let’s take what we know about the medium:

1. It’s very personal. If you interrupt someone’s chat with anything they don’t want, you will annoy the hell out of them.

2. It’s a sharing space. People are clicking the Share to WhatsApp button from content sites at very high rates, potentially as high or higher than Twitter. Content is the most popular medium for self-expression outside simple text messages.

3. It’s more private. This builds exclusivity into any content.

Now, we don’t know WhatsApp’s future. As a Facebook product, it seems unlikely it will remain a pure “messaging” play without another ecosystem product addition, such as a news feed, games, or productivity app offerings. That’s the way other chat apps evolved.

Still, there’s already plenty of potential for brand marketing. Consider Absolut Vodka. It created a WhatsApp account for a fake bouncer named Sven. To get an invite to an exclusive event, you had to send Sven content showing why you deserved to be there. Absolut hit all three points: A personal experience, sharing, and exclusivity.

Absolut ran its campaign on a low scale. But there’s no reason “Sven” couldn’t be reproduced in all of their major markets on a local scale. Once users join, they could set their notification preferences and the account could be utilized every week for exclusive Absolut sponsored parties, which are already operating. After the event, traditional content—photos, links, and video—could be distributed through the channel.

The future of content marketing is creating campaigns native to each medium. There are going to be people who like LinkedIn but can’t stand Snapchat, or those who love Facebook and can’t stand Skype. These distinctions aren’t really important anymore from the larger perspective. Truly content-savvy brands will scale simultaneously across multiple services and devices, to the individual user groups active on each medium. Scaling is still possible, but it’s getting a whole lot more personal.

The Content Strategist is our brand’s story. What’s yours? Let us help you find the answer.

Image by Twin Design / Shutterstock

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