When Google launched its own instant messaging app earlier this month, it was proof that the platform has truly come of age.
In fact, the top four instant messaging apps have surpassed the four biggest social networks in terms of monthly users, and this movement towards domination is set to continue.
Publishers and social platforms have already cottoned on to the opportunities that instant messaging apps offer. A growing number are moving to tap into their huge appeal and, where possible, launching versions that are allied to their business ecosystems. Google’s offering, for example, allows users to use its search engine without leaving the app.
But while the value of creating and owning messaging apps as a property is recognised, many brands have yet to determine how they can harness the huge sphere of influence they offer and turn that into business value.
The dark social condundrum
The rise of instant messaging apps offers both a problem and an opportunity for brands. As non-public online platforms, they form part of the “dark social” element of the web, where content and links are shared privately and businesses lose much of their ability to start and control conversations about their brand
Mark Zuckerberg was early to recognise that instant messaging apps were a missing piece in the puzzle of user behaviour online, when Facebook bought Whatsapp for a whopping $22 billion back in 2014. And data from RadiumOne shows that 69% of total shares online now happen via dark social channels such as email or instant messaging apps.
So it’s important for companies to tap into instant messaging apps if they wish to exert brand influence in today’s digital landscape. But to do so they’ll need to relinquish the usual marketing techniques, creating a very personal, human connection while respecting the privacy of their audience. This is far from what many big brands are used to doing.
Bringing AI into brand engagement
It’s not an exaggeration to say that the adoption of multi-functional messaging apps could change how brands talk to consumers for good. In particular, we’re increasingly seeing businesses using messaging apps as a customer service tool. As a case in point, Facebook has announced it will be launching a version of its Messenger for business by the end of the year.
Artificial intelligence is allowing brands to roll this out at scale. Chatbots, which are one of digital marketing’s most exciting innovations, support automated conversations with customers by reproducing the “code” of a conversation.
This social AI gives brands brands a convenient, fast, and easily accessible point of contact with their customers, which can be applied to everything from online sales to customer service. One example is the KLM bot, which allows users to order an Uber and manage airline reservations through a single platform.
Where next for brands?
Instant messaging opens an exciting and challenging future for brands, if they can plan and measure interactions appropriately to maximise engagement without being intrusive.
One approach is to pinpoint instances when customers need a company’s services, but would not want to acknowledge this publically. This gives brands a chance to communicate with people in a more intimate way, and makes consumers feel that a company understands their need for privacy.
The Hyatt Hotels chain has done just this in allowing guests to order towels or room service via instant messenger, but brands will need to do a significant amount of leg work to understand exactly how instant messaging could improve their relationships with specific customer groups.
If they get it right, pairing AI with careful planning and, most importantly, a human touch, they will have the power to capitalise on new avenues for engagement opened by instant messaging.
By Marie Dollé, head of content and digital strategist at Kantar Media
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