By Adam Fraser.
When Facebook announced its $19bn acquisition of WhatsApp in Feb 2014 that was a pretty big statement. This was Facebook after all – THE dominant social media platform, with its own native messenger platform to boot.
Yet despite its undisputed market power and dominant leading position in social media, Facebook felt the need to pay a…a-hum… “full price” for a messaging platform. $19bn for a company not yet making any money. Clearly a long term strategic play based on its impressive 600m user base, not a short term financial one.
The price paid, and urgency to buy, shows how seriously Facebook took the threat from messaging platforms. They saw the growth in messaging platforms and saw a threat. They were acknowledging a trend. Messaging, a natively mobile form of communication, was becoming a serious business. Some even forecast that messenger apps would soon be bigger than social networks, and stats in late 2014 showed messenger apps were growing at the expense of social networks.
When social media really hit the mainstream it seemed that everyone wanted to be a “publisher”. Not necessarily in the NY Time sense of the word, but it was all about the sharing. Sharing publicly. What you had for lunch. Your views on Breaking Bad. The party last night. Everything had to be shared with everyone.
The growth in messaging in recent years is indicative perhaps of a broader shift. Are millennials in particular developing a deeper sense of privacy? Are they coming to the point where not everything has to be shared in public? Ironically we no longer speak on the telephone that much, but we are coming full circle back to a place where people increasingly want to use social platforms to communicate with individuals in private. Communications with close friends. Generally 1:1; possibly 1: a few; but less frequently 1: world.
The trend to 1:1 is clear when you look at the strategies of the larger ‘traditional’ social networks. Instagram introduced direct messaging in December 2013. – allowing users to send each other private images or videos. Pinterest added direct messaging in August 2014 . Twitter has long had a direct messaging service. And we all remember the kerfuffle when Facebook insisted users download Facebook messenger in a separate app in July 2014. Messaging now matters.
So is the whole social media landscape changing? Is the growing popularity of messaging services indicative of a broader trend? Arguably yes.
The rapid growth of Snapchat in itself is indicative that users – even millennials – have certain communications that they want to have in private. Discussions around live public events – major sports, reality TV, the Oscars, breaking news etc – will likely remain the staple of the more public sharing mediums. Sharing of more creative visuals on Instagram lends itself more naturally to ‘group’ display. But the truly social/close friend/personal communications may increasingly migrate to messaging platforms.
This view from a teenager published on Medium is well worth a read and is insightful in this regard.
On Facebook – “it’s dead to us”
On Snapchat – “it’s where we can really be ourselves…Snapchat is a somewhat intimate network of friends “
Social media is too big, too broad and too global to make too many sweeping generalisations. Social media and large group/public sharing is not “dead”. Instagram in particular is thriving at present. But the rapid growth in Snapchat (currently the fastest growing mobile messenger app) and Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp alone tell you messaging is a serious force to be taken note of in the social stratosphere.
The challenges for marketers are significant in tackling the rapidly growing new kid on the block – brands may be even less welcome in this more intimate, private zone.