Finding Ways to Make Messaging Apps Work


We have noted that on average, mobile users spend about 85% of their mobile time on their top five mobile apps. There are 3 million apps in the App Store alone. So where do users spend their time? Social and messaging apps.

But what are the best ways for brands to capture user attention and engagement in social and messaging apps? What revenue models exist for them? And can those models sustain?

For some, answering these questions requires a deeper understanding of the future – and past – of messaging apps, in particular WeChat.

As StartApp co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer Ran Avidan noted: “In WeChat and Line in Asia, services are booming. I mean, you probably can do almost everything using their messaging platform. Even more people pay with WeChat than with wire transfers, for instance. In Line, the Korean and Japanese messaging app, they use it for almost everything from dry cleaning to ordering a taxi. It’s a huge trend in Asia, but Facebook has been trying to introduce this in the West without big success.

“I think that Facebook actually admits this, and they’re trying to change things, and this is actually what StartApp is doing with SODA Bubbles. We’re trying to reach the next stage of what bots and services are within messaging In the future, messaging will be probably the platform that users will consume the most media in. Today, you can see in this in Facebook Messenger. People are using it for reading things, for games, and for e-commerce because all of the content is inside Messenger or inside Facebook. It’s actually not an app anymore.”

Power Behind Messaging Apps

And the power behind messaging apps?

Avidan says: “Today, messaging is the ultimate communication container. In the past it was voice, and then came SMS, and today it’s messaging because both of the previous iterations did not suffice. SMS does not include any contextual information. A thread in SMS is not in real time as opposed to messaging which involves real time messaging with capabilities for location sharing, audio, and video.”

Indeed, the power behind integrating multi-functional capabilities into a messaging app can be seen through the myriad ways WeChat integrates itself into nearly every function of daily life in the key markets it penetrates.

Writes Ben Thompson in Stratechery: “Connie Chan of Andreessen Horowitz tried to explain in 2015 just how integrated WeChat is into the daily lives of nearly 900 million Chinese, and that integration has only grown since then: every aspect of a typical Chinese person’s life, not just online but also off is conducted through a single app (and, to the extent other apps are used, they are often games promoted through WeChat).”

“There is nothing in any other country that is comparable: not LINE, not WhatsApp, not Facebook. All of those are about communication or wasting time: WeChat is that, but it is also for reading news, for hailing taxis, for paying for lunch (try and pay with cash for lunch, and you’ll look like a luddite), for accessing government resources, for business. For all intents and purposes WeChat is your phone, and to a far greater extent in China than anywhere else, your phone is everything.”

For more insight into the issues, consider listening to this Exponent podcast, where Ben Thompson and James Allworth “discuss how leverage shifts in a value chain, why WeChat is so powerful in China, and why that is a problem for Apple.”

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