Content Marketing

Chat Apps: The Next Big Content Marketing Opportunity

Here’s a content marketing quote you probably haven’t heard: “Snapchat is my most valuable marketing tool right now.”

That wasn’t said by the CEO of some weird Brooklyn organic lingerie company, but Gary Vaynerchuck, the renown agency founder and best-selling author. “It’s not how many followers you have, it’s how many care,” said Vaynerchuck about why the app works for him. Snapchat enables intimate, one-to-one relationships, and with the launch of Snapchat stories, he can now tell big stories in one snap.

But Snapchat is one of only many chat apps to have taken off in the last year. Even Instagram is getting into the game. Yesterday, Instagram hopped on the trend with Instagram Direct, a chat app layer that allows people to communicate one-on-one or in small groups. The only surprise is that it took Instagram this long. As the chart below shows, the number of registered users of chat apps has soared over the past eight months. Most chat-app users are under 25, and as a result, chat apps need to be on the radar of brands targeting younger demos.

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The number of people searching for chat apps on Google is also continuing to climb:

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In the marketing world, chat apps are often an afterthought. The reasoning goes that because they are so intimate, brands would only be getting in the way of people communicating, rather than adding to the conversation, and that chat-app marketing wouldn’t be scalable.

But the latest breed of chat apps are different and can serve as a massive marketing opportunity. Simply put, brands are missing out.

Chat and Mobile Content

What Kik, Tango, Instagram Direct, Snapchat, Facebook, WhatsApp and their counterparts in Asia (Line, KaKaoTalk and WeChat) all have in common is that they’re evolving to become more like platforms.

Rather than just letting users talk back and forth, they have other functions too, many of which are built around content: portals to find content; games and contests that unlock content and prizes; features and tools to interact, make content, and tell stories. As mobile usage grows, the Internet is increasingly being experienced through apps.

This presents a lot of potential marketing opportunities — like One Direction’s recent campaign on the chat app Kik.

One Direction Wins Big On Kik

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Kik, a clear competitor to Instagram Direct, has a feature called cards, which is what powered the One Direction campaign. Cards are made in HTML5 and allow you to find content directly within the chat app and share it. It’s seamless; there’s no need to go over to the browser and copy and paste.

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The One Direction campaign took advantage of this native functionality. The One Direction card was set up so that it would unlock if you bought their new album, “Midnight Memories”, from within the card, via an iTunes Store link (the Deluxe Edition, at full retail price). Those users would then have access to tons of shareable content and be able to connect with other One Direction fans. After 5,000 people bought the album ), the One Direction card “unlocked” for everyone. Kik users can also buy stickers, which can be branded, to add some flair to their excitement. Though the One Direction campaign didn’t include stickers, it’s easy to see how stickers could add an additional revenue stream to a marketing campaign.

This is new ground for a U.S. chat app. “Purchasing music via mobile phones is new to many consumers,” said IPG Media Lab, the group behind the app, “and purchasing it via messaging apps is even more unfamiliar.”

A Big, Content-Fueled Future

One Direction’s success is likely just the tip of the iceberg. Yesterday, Kik announced that 145 million unique Kik cards have been installed. That’s from only 32 cards available, meaning that on average, a unique card is being installed over 4 million times. But where are the brands?

Take the recent performance of Costume Party, a game where you compete to draw costumes on friends, which got over 1 million downloads the day it launched. There’s no reason a brand couldn’t have made that game.

“Most chat-app users are under 25, and as a result, chat apps need to be on the radar of brands targeting younger demos.”

Instagram Direct seems aimed at Kik. There are more than 18 million hashtags on Instagram referencing Kik, compared with 5 million for Snapchat or Facebook. These hashtags are for people’s Kik usernames, so they can leave Instagram to have conversations they don’t want seen on Instagram’s public feeds. When they go to Kik, they go into cards to find content. In this environment, traditional browsers like Safari or Chrome are anachronistic and unnecessary. Instagram is trying to stop that flow away from the app, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them add some kind of card-feature in the future, too.

Instagram and Kik aren’t the only apps jumping on this trend. Tango, which consistently ranks as a top-10 social networking app, started out as a Skype competitor, providing a way to make calls and videoconference over VOIP. This summer, it launched a game and contentsharing platform. Some games even work within calls. This is the functionality Facebook promised before it upset a lot of developers by closing off the platform and turned off a lot of its younger audience by becoming the cool place for mom and dad to hang out. While Facebook is still the biggest player in town, users are steadily moving to where they feel more comfortable.

Snapchat, still struggling to find new uses and monetize, is one more good example. Snapchat’s Stories took content-sharing on Snapchat to a new level, and there are a lot of good campaigns in the making. Click-to-buy experiments have been discovered, and it’s suspected that virtual goods and other ways of integrating with e-commerce are next. There’s also no reason the app couldn’t add tiered premium accounts, popular in Asian chat apps, with more features and scope or add a game platform of its own.

All these apps can, admittedly, be overwhelming. Why so many? Which is the next Facebook? For now, that’s not the relevant question.

Chat apps are coming together as an ecosystem of social, not as a single portal that captures everything. People move between the apps to do entirely different things. The people moving from Instagram to Kik to have conversations might then go to Tango or Facebook to play games. As analyst Ben Evans memorably wrote: “People aren’t using Instagram for photos, WhatsApp for text, Line for stickers … They’re using everything for everything. Instagram to tell people you’re running late, WhatsApp to share holiday photos, Snapchat to make plans for the evening and so on.”

“While Facebook is still the biggest player in town, users are steadily moving to where they feel more comfortable.”

What’s clear, though, is that content keeps coming up as the key ingredient that keeps people interested and engaged. And what’s also clear is that these apps are not only growing in popularity but also becoming more content-friendly.

So if you’re a brand targeting a young demographic and weren’t on Instagram already, you probably really wish you were now. That feeling is only going to get stronger. And love them or hate them, frontrunners like the Kardashians, who took only a day to capitalize on Instagram’s new chat features with a content giveaway contest, are going to emerge as the big winners.

What’s the deal with the Content Strategist? At Contently, storytelling is the only marketing we do, and it works wonders. It could for you, too. Learn more.

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