I’ve written before about why Facebook is still the king within the social media space, and why its reign will last for some time. Having a strong presence on the world’s largest social network and across a range of networks is certainly essential for publishers wishing to optimize their reach and impact. But there is another great force in the world of social media that needs to be grappled with if publishers are to continue to maximize their impact – messaging apps. Chat apps aren’t a new phenomenon but as GlobalWebIndex’s data makes clear, they are an essential engagement channel to understand as the world of social media continues to evolve.

80% of online adults are using messaging apps

Despite being relatively new to the scene, messaging apps have already emphatically claimed mainstream status. 8 in 10 internet users now use a chat app, like WhatsApp, Snapchat or Facebook Messenger. Indeed, as our chart here shows, the rate at which digital consumers are signing up for messaging platforms is striking – in 2014 it was a little over 20% of internet users (outside China) who had started using Facebook Messenger. Flash forward to 2016 and the figure is close to 50%.

Other big names in the messaging market have seen similar growth rates, with WhatsApp and Snapchat being the most notable. Key here, however, is regionality. In China, for example, local messaging platform WeChat is absolutely dominant, while Line controls the market in Japan. And while Facebook Messenger claims impressive rates in the USA, in most fast-growth markets its WhatsApp that is the app of choice. Increasingly, however, consumers are happy to be multi-service users, turning to different apps for different functions.

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2 in 3 North American 16-24s are on Snapchat

The early adopters of messaging apps were young, digitally-engaged consumers and even as these platforms have entered the mainstream, some messaging apps have succeeded in maintaining demographic profiles the envy from many other platforms.

Take Snapchat for example: at a global level, usage figures for Snapchat may trail well behind its rival but focus only on 16-24s and the service boasts engagement rates about 40%. What’s more, look at this age group with North America and it’s 63% who are Snapchatting. GWI research may show that older users are beginning to catch on to the Snapchatting trend but it’s clear that Snapchat remains an ever-important channel for publishers aiming to reach the youngest demographic.

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8 in 10 WhatsAppers use the app daily

Many messaging apps have become integral to the daily digital habits of their users. WeChatters are hailing cabs via their apps, Line users are ordering takeaways and Messenger users are now interacting with AI chatbots. But it’s the stripped down messaging platform of WhatsApp that can claim to have the highest engagement rates among its users. Fully 80% of WhatsAppers are using the app daily, meaning that this messaging app has better user engagement than even Facebook (the traditional champion for this metric). Within this context, it’s easy to see just how many possibilities exist for publishers to expose messaging app users to their content.

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Messaging apps are the new sharing platforms

Although social networking is truly ingrained in the habits of digital consumers, there is a key shift that is occurring within the digital space – passive networking. Increasingly, although users are continuing to interact with larger social networks, and often quite frequently, the number who are contributing content to these platforms is dwindling. In contrast, messaging apps can boast high rates of contribution and, perhaps most importantly for publishers, sharing.

Our chart here shows one example: photo sharing. So, if we look at those consumers who use both Facebook and WhatsApp, when it comes to sharing photos, WhatsApp is the clear choice. The controlled audiences offered by messaging apps is the deciding factor here, with users on WhatsApp able to be highly specific about who is exposed to their content. On the surface, this may seem to restrict the reach of shared content, but the targeted nature of sharing on messaging apps also means that, when shared, publishers content is much more likely to resonate with recipients. 

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