Publishers get the message, hedge bets with social and messaging apps

The first download any new smartphone buyer makes, be they teenager or grandparent, are messaging apps. The number of users for apps such as WeChat (600-million users), Facebook’s Messenger (800-million) & WhatsApp (1-billion), and Snapchat (200-million) rival anything presented by established social platforms like Twitter and Facebook’s standalone apps.

Just this week, The Wall Street Journal announced Line, the Japanese messaging app, was it's fastest growing social channel. With 215-million users, and almost 99 per cent of them monthly active users, it's no wonder publishers are scrambling to get aboard the next big thing in chat. But what is the end game when it comes to accumulating this many engaged users?

With such large bases, it’s little surprise brands and marketers are clamouring to interact with the engaged audiences on these apps, especially in countries which may have once seemed impenetrable when it comes to social advertising and sponsored content.

WeChat’s “Moments” has recently been opened up to all brands looking to advertise, not just the few exclusive brands included at launch in early 2015.

But it’s not just the core app experience that WeChat is making available to brands. Partnering with WeChat, Burberry has launched an app based on the Chinese Lunar New Year which is promoted through the messaging service. This is a unique way for the luxury brand to engage with WeChat’s largely Chinese audience which doesn’t utilize Facebook and Twitter the same way users have in the west.

Snapchat’s model has made headlines of late as finally starts to turn a profit. Though it doesn’t boast the same raw number of users as the its rivals, the app has the unique ability to allow a brand to genuinely tap into a moment to promote engagement. Sports leagues like the NHL, MLB, and NFL have quickly adapted to the format to show game-day experiences live from arenas and fields across the country, showing events from a fans perspective like never seen before.

But it’s not just brands, events, and sports leagues getting involved with Snapchat. Several publishing partners, such as Vice, Refinery 29, National Geographic, Vox, Food Network and many more have started shifting some of their coverage over to app and it’s core audience which might vary wildly from it’s own. Snapchat is helping match these publishers with like-minded brands for sponsorship opportunities as they evolve their monetization strategy - a necessary move as they wind down their experiment in selling and pushing sponsored lenses.

Of course these are all situations sanctioned by the platforms themselves. Some publishers are experimenting beyond these parameters, with mixed results; Canadian publisher the Globe and Mail used WhatsApp to augment coverage of their country’s recent federal election. Users were encouraged to join a WhatsApp group dedicated to the coverage, and received messages each day containing images, polls, and the latest news about the election all within the app.

Though well received, those running the experiment concluded the project was too labor intensive to continue on an on-going basis, but remarked that if WhatsApp evolved to the point where publishing content was much easier, it would be worth revisiting.

Publishers realize that users are converging at these apps, the same way they did Facebook, Twitter, and others before even them. By continuing to experiment, and taking a proactive stance when it comes to content partnerships, they could avoid some mistakes initially made in the early days of social sharing, and ensure they retain some of the influence in brands and marketers decision making process when it comes to media buying in messaging, as it is a matter of when – not if – this medium becomes the “next big thing” in content marketing.