A mobile-connected population sent over 8.3 trillion text messages in 2015 alone. That’s 23 billion messages a day, or 16 million questions, updates, emojis, jokes, and break-ups every second. With the advent of messaging apps like Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, and WhatsApp, this number is set to explode with $billions in new business up for grabs.  

Where traditional texts were created for pixelated screens and keypad devices, messaging apps are its high-def., smartphone equivalent. From friend lists, group chats and video/voice messages, all the way through to ordering Ubers and shopping from your mobile – they allow users to communicate with the world around us and centralise as many areas of your connected lifestyle as possible.

The numbers don’t lie

Facebook Messenger has recorded 900 million users globally; Chinese apps QQ and WeChat have at least 600 million users respectively, and Facebook-owned WhatsApp was reportedly the first to cross the 1 billion users following a $19 billion valuation in 2015. Pew Research reports 36% of smartphone users worldwide used instant message apps in the last 12 months, with an attention span of 1.5x a regular app, and an average use of 12 months each. More importantly, these apps are trending with a younger audience: 49% of those aged 18-29 used a messaging app in the last 12 months, with youth-focused messaging apps like Snapchat identifying 71% of its audience as under the age of 35. There are 30 billion messages sent a day on WhatsApp alone, compared with 20 billion sent through traditional text messaging, so it’s clear these apps are becoming the default communication for the next generation.

So how can businesses leverage one-seventh of the population in a simple user interface? There are three main categories where the opportunities are boundless:

  • Engaging content;
  • Automated chatbots;
  • Value-adding customer care.

Keep them entertained

In the same way that Facebook uses algorithms to curate what news you like to receive, chat services allow for content to be curated by those who know you best. From DMs (direct messages) to the all-powerful group chat, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp chat feeds are stacked with friends sharing content with each other. Now, companies are joining in on the fun.

Huffington Post offers a news alert service on WhatsApp, where readers indicate areas of interest then receive personalised updates as a direct message when stories are published. Funny or Die is giving Kik readers lols through direct videos and this more personal approach is seeing more. And Hellmann’s Mayonnaise connected WhatsApp users to real chefs to give cooking lessons based on what was in their refrigerator.

Snapchat is unique for businesses looking to forge a more personal connection with their customers. Brands like General Electric offer six-second science videos to their followers, and Grubhub has an awarded approach to the platform that involves sending out snaps of product codes and replying to almost every snap that gets sent. And if you’re interested in seeing what your face would look like as a Taco, Snapchat has you covered with a filter that beamed their logo into 224 million mobile users worldwide. This was before their Gatorade-themed Superbowl filter had more viewers than the most watched sporting match on the planet.

Chatbots

To save on costly customer service centres, savvy businesses are experimenting with AI-trained chatbots to converse with customers. At best, chatbots should make the ordering process as easy as asking for what you need (1-800-Flowers has developed a bot to make flower-ordering a 5-minute, human-free process), with the ability to order food, book flights, or organise meeting rooms for your next venture. So, when SIRI 2, Google Now, and Echo artificial PAs really make their mark, we’ll see roughly 50 years of processing evolution directed entirely to making your day a little easier.

A classic Turing test with Facebook M.

Classic Turing tests with Facebook M. Source: Medium

But they’re not quite there yet: chatbots are prone to give unintelligent, scripted responses that are not intuitive to the users’ needs. Until an intelligent service that is able to decode natural language (like Facebook’s M – an AI virtual assistant [8]) is released, chatbots are best left to simple interactions like product purchases and small enquiries.

Help me, help you

Much like how chatbots will predict your needs (and fulfill them automatically), their application for messaging apps will lean on artificial intelligence as a driver of customer service.

Integrated messaging / Uber concept. Source: Awesomed

Integrated messaging / Uber concept. Source: Awesomed

In early 2015, Facebook teamed-up with online retailer Everlane to build a customer service portal through their Messenger account. By directing all order notifications through the app, they freed resources for when customers have more detailed requests (like finding the right size and style for a particular shape). The future lies in automating more and more service requests, potentially to the point where customers need not speak to one person from the start of their transaction until the end – but don’t count on robots having a good enough sense of style to guide you just yet…

The next step

If these trends continue, messenger services will become more and more prevalent as a portal for all kinds of uses. Ubers can be ordered through Facebook, meetings organised through Slack, purchases through Pinterest and business through our calculators – this will only become more and more automatic, with less friction points and more time to do the things that make you happy.

As its user base pushes into the billions, messaging apps will offer more value and more automation than ever. We’ll just need to keep up with the group chat until we get there.

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Tanya Phull

Head of Social Media

Tanya Phull,
Head of Social Media

As head of social media at Vodafone, Tanya is an expert in customer engagement and emerging platforms. As an American-born expat and wanderluster, Tanya is always equipped with the best tech tips for travellers.

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