Why and how private messaging apps should become central to your thinking. 

While instant messaging isn’t a new phenomenon, the growth in mobile device proliferation has driven usage levels of private mobile messaging apps to unexpected levels. And they’re here to stay! Apps like Snapchat and WhatsApp, and relative newcomers like Secret and Whisper, are the fastest-growing type of app in the world, and are transforming the landscape of digital communication.

And with organic reach almost disappearing on FacebookTwitter’s plans to introduce a similar algorithm to Facebook and Instagram’s slow shift towards a paid advertising model, these private messaging apps have brought with them new opportunities for brands to reach out and really engage with their audience.


The big players

There’s a huge choice of private messaging apps out there and at the moment there isn’t one big global player dominating the landscape: adoption really varies depending on app functionality, the location and the demographic.

Functionality varies, everything from messages that disappear after only a few seconds (Snapchat) to anonymous messaging (Secret and Whisper). Users are many: WeChat has over 400 million, Whatsapp over 300 million and Viber has just reached over 200 million. Whatsapp recently claimed to have more daily active users than Twitter and Snapchat claims over 100 million monthly active users who send over 700 million Snaps and view over 1 billion Stories per day. According to the latest study from Ipsos MRBI 500,000 Irish Adults (15+) use Snapchat daily. 520,000 Irish Adults (15+) use WhatsApp daily.


Deloitte predicts thats 50 billion instant messages will be sent everyday by the end of 2014.


And with new messaging apps launching all the time, the rise in their usage is changing the way we look at mobile marketing, with brands moving away from mass messaging formats towards a more direct, and personal approach to consumers.


what this means for brands

There are a few things to consider before stepping into the private messaging marketing arena.

Content must engage and compel
As brands slowly shift towards one-to-one engagement, the key to brand success is to really connect with your audience through engaging content. Private messages are short lived, so brand messages need to be both compelling and understood within seconds, otherwise it’s a wasted opportunity.

Consider your audience
Like all platforms, target audience is key when creating brand messages. The age demographic of private messaging apps varies but it’s important to note that currently the majority of private users are in the younger demographic ranging from 15-35 years. On Snapchat the demographic is younger again with 70% of users aged between 13 and 25 and the majority are female. For these audiences content needs to be entertaining, funny, unexpected or exclusive.

Right place, right time
We all know the value of good timing in social media and private messaging apps are no different. Heineken took full advantage of their Coachella sponsorship earlier this year with a clever Snapchat campaign. They sent their followers cropped snaps of artists who were performing secret gigs during the festival. Those who correctly guessed the artist were rewarded with the time and location of the gig. It’s a perfect example of using the right platform for their target audience and using exclusive content to generate buzz and reward fans.


How brands are using Snapchat

#LastSelfie – World Wildlife Fund
WWF’s #LastSelfie Snapchat campaign showed endangered wildlife species vanishing from the screen, using the ten second countdown Snapchat is famous for. It was an excellent way of using the platform to create awareness, especially with younger audiences who are becoming increasingly hard to reach. 


Dublin pub uses Snapchat to recruit staff

Here in Dublin, new pub Sober Lane announced they were hiring 20 staff with applications only being accepted via Snapchat. Pub owner Ernest Cantillon said: “Applicants had ten seconds to impress, which is the most they are likely to have on a busy night in the bar so it makes sense – plus fun and having a laugh is what Sober Lane is all about.” They received 2,700 applications and it proved to be a shrewd PR move for the new establishment, which got reams of free media coverage for its unconventional method of recruitment.


ASOS flash sales

Snapchat is the perfect platform to launch flash sales and discount codes, and global online fashion retailer ASOS was one of the first brands to try this out. By using their already-established Twitter audience to promote their presence on Snapchat, ASOS offered them exclusive content on an alternative platform. They recognised that content is key on private messaging apps, and rewarding fans for following you will incentivize them to keep following you.


HBO’s GIRLS season launch

For the launch of the latest season of hit series GIRLS, HBO invited the show’s huge Twitter audience to add HBOGirls on Snapchat, and they were duly rewarded with exclusive content including pictures from the red-carpet premiere event. Given the show’s younger audience, it was a hugely effective way to reach fans and share engaging content. Celebrity carries weight for these groups and any exclusive content relating to this is in huge demand.


Art Snaps by Los Angeles County Museum Of Art

For brand success on private messaging apps, entertainment is key when targeting a younger demographic and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art provides the perfect case study. In July this year the US museum used Snapchat to issue a series of witty snaps created by overlaying modern themes onto classic art works. The museum put its collection at the centre of this communication and ensured the message was perfectly tailored for the audience and the platform.


And the point of all this?

Private messaging apps will change the way people engage with brands. As Danah Boyd, Microsoft Research’s principal research scientist, explains, “We get so obsessed with ephemerality that we forget about what [Snapchat has] done in terms of changing the dynamics of attention… You choose a time where you’re going to say “I’m going to pay attention to this and I’m going to put all my focus there”.’

With Facebook and Twitter advertising platforms still very much following a more traditional format… private messaging apps pose a challenge to brands in terms of how they communicate with audiences. A user being served up an ad or message on Snapchat has the choice to view the snap. If they view it – they are making a conscious decision to see the content – therefore the possibility for engagement is much higher. The challenge here is that the content MUST be worth viewing. This means… brands can be a lot more creative, fun and dare we say it… take bigger risks!

It’s still early days and brands are very much testing the water. But it‘s already evident that good, relevant content will always pay off especially on a one-to-one platform. Brands need to consider this before jumping on board - the message must match the medium and as with all platforms, brands need to ask ‘is this really the best place to promote my message?’.

We’ve seen some great examples of brands doing Snapchat well, and it is worth noting that the majority of these brands are for younger audiences (MTV, HBO GIRLS, ASOS). The timing may not be right for all brands to race to mobile advertising on private messaging apps. For many brands Facebook and Twitter are still the best places to reach their audiences.

But with the very first Snapchat ad served up in mid October which was viewed by millions and with SnapChat also considering incorporating ads into its live-events product called "Our Story", it looks like the private messaging app expansion isn’t going to slow down any time soon.


(Images via Snapchat, ASOS, Coachella, HBO, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Sober Lane)


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