Sunday, January 11, 2015

Social Networking on Mobile - The Big opportunity for marketers

Facebook has been the dominant social network for quite a while and has an active user base of more than 1.3 billion. Its proliferation in the 18-35 years of age group (52%) makes it ideal for most advertisers.

An interesting statistic to observe is the number of people accessing Facebook through Mobile. One of the biggest shifts in social media behavior has been its greater usage through mobile devices (in particular smartphones).  According to a report, the internet traffic on mobile accounts for one forth the total internet traffic. Even more important is its growth, which is over 1.5 times per year and according to analysts would stay the same way in the years to come. This shift is even more significant for emerging economies where in a sector such as e-commerce organizations are witnessing close to 65% sales through mobile.

Facebook has managed to stay ahead of the curve through some high profile acquisitions. Facebook's acquisition of WhatsApp was valued at close to $22 billion, which completed in October 2014. The deal, which initially valued WhatsApp at $19 Billion rose to close to 21.8 Bn due the rise of value of Facebook's shares. 178 million shares of its stock, 46 mn of grants in restricted stock, and $4.59 bn in cash was paid to acquire WhatsApp. This deal made WhatsApp founder Jan Koum and Brian Acton billionaires and gave Facebook access to 600 million active monthly users of WhatsApp.

According to recent report, WhatsApp has more than 700 million monthly active users sharing close to 30 billion messages everyday. This makes it almost 2.5 times bigger than Twitter and almost 0.5 times Facebook's 1.3 billion users/month. India alone accounts for 70 million users on WhatsApp (Nov, 2014). These numbers make it important for brands to closely monitor the evolution of WhatsApp as a platform and use it for reaching out effectively to consumers.

At present, WhatsApp, which remains an ad free medium does not support a lot of branding activity unlike its parent, Facebook. There are a few brands such as Absolut, and an Israel's chocolate company Klik that have used WhatsApp to engage with Fans. Although its use as a part of most social media campaigns is still not as rampant as Facebook or Twitter. One of the primary reason is the semi-public nature of the platform. Unike Facebook, or Twitter, it does not have an official page/account/group feature. Such features are present in other chat/social networking applications like Instagram, Wechat, and Line.

Facebook's acquisition of Instagram (co-founded by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger) also keeps it ahead and well established in the space of photo and video sharing along with social networking on mobile. Instagram, which got acquired by Facebook in April 2012 for close $1 billion grew by almost 23% whereas its parent Facebook only grew by 3%. Instagram now boasts of 300 million active users per month (Dec, 2014) pegging it higher than Twitter, which has close to 284 million active users. Twitter despite having a mobile App has not seen the growth in its base as compared to Instagram or WhatsApp. Globally the rise of these mobile social networks and a decline of interest in Twitter is visible in the search volume.

For brands Instagram presents an opportunity similar to Facebook, where users can get a brand account created and share images to engage with its Fans. One of ways to organically acquire followers on Instagram is through smart use of tagging, which makes content discoverable and allows users to follow you based on content. Contests are another way to get users to follow your brand. One primary differentiation between an Instagram brand account and a Facebook page is that Instagram at present does not filter information. All the content that you post will reach your followers. Although with Instagram starting advertising on its platform, this may not be the case in future. Another possibility with Instagram is the ability to track conversations that can enable brands to and ask users to share their opinion through hashtags. This makes it a very useful feature to track conversations and generate positive word-of-mouth, which is rich in media (i.e. through images). Also at present, the inability to post urls makes Instagram less subject to misuse.

WeChat, is a mobile messaging App by Tencent (based out of China) that boasts over 438 million active users (Aug, 2014) with 70 million outside of China. It is the world's second largest mobile messaging App after WhastApp. What also makes it unique is that it has not come from the Silicon valley. At present its dominance is in China where Wechat is used by businesses to interact with their customers.  It is estimated based on market share data that WeChat could have close to 30 mn users in India (Nov, 2014). In India Wechat offers the capability to create official accounts where brands for instance can integrate their entire search and make product search easy and effective for users on Wechat. This provides a good opportunity for brands to interact with their customers. Although as compared to WhatsApp, Facebook, and Instagram, Wechat does not enjoy heavy adoption. But it definitely makes it a hot favorite considering Tencent's presence in India and heavy investment for increasing adoption of Wechat.

Line  was designed and launched in Japan in 2011. It saw a rapid growth in user base and by 2013 it became Japan's largest social network. It claims to have reached almost 560 million worldwide users with almost a third of it in active accounts. Line is similar to WeChat and provides the capability to brands to create official accounts. However it does not allow tech integration and in functionality works very similar to a Facebook page. It allows brands to send notifications to users following them  thus providing an attractive opportunity to engage with followers on mobile. It also allows brands to break the clutter. Its significance for Indian brands can be gauged by the fact that Line claims to have 30 millions users in India (Oct, 2014), which is almost half of WhatsApp users.

Hike is another instant messaging service with a focus on India. It was launched as JV between Bharti Enterprises and Softbank and has close to 35 million users (Jan, 2014). It was launched in Dec, 2012 and has users primarily under the age of 25 (Which is the case with most mobile messaging applications). At present it allows restricted presence to brands. Brands through tie-ups can provide offers to users on Hike through a separate offers tab. Domino's has been one active brand offering these offers apart from many other brands in the e-commerce space. Considering the competitive mobile social networking/messaging space in India, Hike is one App to watch out for.

Viber is an Israel based instant messaging App. It was launched in direct competition with Skype and currently has over 33 million Indian users registered on the App (Nov, 2014). It also makes India the largest market for Viber overtaking the United States. At present Viber is still opening up to brands. What makes it an App to watch out for is its aggressive marketing that can help it overtaking other instant messaging apps in India. It has plans to launch a game store and micro payments system in India by 2015. It is backed by Rakuten, that acquired the application for close to $900 million (Feb, 2014).

In the Indian mobile instant messaging space, WhatsApp is the dominant player. With limited options for brands to engage on WhatsApp, other Apps become important for marketers to engage on mobile. The growth of users in applications such as Hike, Viber, Wechat, and Line in India make it an important space to watch-out for building engagement and recall. Apart from Instagram, no other application at present has an advertising inventory. This makes it important to get in early in these eco-systems and use content and creative techniques to build a follower base specific to mobile. Strategic tie-ups with these applications can also help brands. One of the biggest advantages offered by these mediums at this stage is the clutter free space they can offer. This perhaps may not be the case in future as usage and adoption increases. Also, considering the dynamic and rapidly growing space, it is important to watch out for these applications, their active users per month to determine which Apps could be worth investing on.