A new year has dawned on us, and with it comes prospects of new innovations and trends in the digital world! But looking back at 2014, there have been quite a few interesting trends to observe. Prominent of which is news from the telecom industry, with lots of acquisitions and investments in the arena of Instant Messengers – or IMs.
Why has there been such an upsurge of interest in the IM sector? Where do IMs stand out and where do they have the upper hand? In this article, I attempt to expound upon all things IM!
IM ACTIVITY IN 2014
1. WhatsApp was acquired by Facebook for a whopping $16 Billion, in the form of cash and stock.
2. Japanese eCommerce company Rakuten acquired Viber for $900 Million.
3. Google acquired IM client Emu in August 2014.
4. The Tango App received a massive investment to the tune of $280 Million from Chinese giant Alibaba.
Now the major reason contributing to the entry of these big player in the IM game is the sheer rise in the popularity of IMs all over the world. And there are quite a few activities which have a cumulative effect for the growth of IMs.
CHEAPER DATA PLANS
2014 saw a continuation in the trends of 2013, with high speed internet for mobile devices being available at cheaper plans. This ensured that the majority of the population opted for data plans, rather than SMS packs.
At least as far as the mobile devices are concerned, costs dropped and the devices became much more accessible. And here, I’m referring to the developing countries in particular. These became more popular, with specific rise of OSs such as Android and iOS, which in turn made IMs popular. It’s all a chain reaction!
Instant Messengers brought in a plethora of features – be it secure encryption of messages, remote deletion of messages, or even fun stuff such as the inclusion of stickers and emojis. Moreover, improvements in groups in IMs, the simplicity in UI and Instant Messengers bringing in additional functionalities (such as the ability to make VOIP calls) all gave rise to IMs being the trend to look out for.
With Instant Messengers, people can communicate with their near and dear in other countries without having to fear for high call and SMS rates for international numbers.
Finally, Instant Messengers are much easier media through which images and videos can be shared.
IM players have made their mark in quite a few countries, with the majority of the action coming in from Asian players such as WeChat and LINE, American names such as Facebook Messenger, Snapchat and WhatsApp and other clients such as Kakao Talk and Viber.
If you look at the global distribution, the Chinese client WeChat leads the pack. With over 600 million registered users and availability in 200 countries, this popular client has truly outdone itself. And now with a focus towards international audience – they’ve roped in Lionel Messi for their promotional campaigns! – they show no signs of backing down.
Facebook Messenger comes next, and rightly so. With cross platform usability, decent set of features and the added advantage of being connected to Facebook, users can connect much easily via this medium! An interesting observation in this regard – while Messenger was growing in popularity, it was actually separated from Facebook and developed as a separate application altogether, as I’ve discussed in my article on unbundling.
Now let’s look away from the individual clients, and focus on general trends. The social media agency KRDS has wonderful statistics for this, and I’ll just quote them here.
IMs aim at attracting the younger crowd, so that they continue using the particular applications for more years at a stretch. It is an innovative strategy indeed, which could give quite a few hints to app developers and digital marketers out there!
Apart from individual players, the trends for Instant Messengers in specific regions is also noteworthy.
A major percentage is governed by Facebook Messenger and Skype. A strong reason for this trend – according to me, please correct me if I’m wrong! – is that these clients are independent of the user’s phone number, which would make it much easier for anybody. Instead of having to ask a person for his/her number, communication can be easily carried out via these IM clients!
Probably the same reason has also been the factor responsible for the growth in popularity of Facebook Messenger from 2013 to 2014!
WhatsApp finds more acceptance and popularity here, with the strong reason of it being able to sync effortlessly with the contacts on a person’s phone. Moreover, it has a broader audience since devices supporting Android are now more easily available. Also, it does not require the hassles of syncing up with Facebook contacts – install WhatsApp on your phone and you’re good to go!
There’s actually an interesting observation for the Asia Pacific statistic. While the above graph applies to all countries in Asia Pacific, Indonesia is quite the exception! The favored IM client in Indonesia is actually, one of the very first IM clients ever.
Yep, BlackBerry Messenger is the most popular IM client in Indonesia, and the statistics speak for themselves!
IMPLICATIONS OF THE IM TREND
The growth of the Instant Messengers would imply SMS services losing out on interest from consumers, mainly because their dearth of features when compared against the various IMs out there.
Moreover, IMs don’t have any limit on the number of characters that could be present in a message, so even in the region of simple text messaging, without taking into account carrier costs, IMs win by a huge margin.
Also is the added advantage of IMs having cross platform usability, which would be extremely beneficial for seamless continuation of conversations!
Finally, with more devices being introduced by OEMs at affordable price points, the outreach of IMs can now be extended to a much larger audience. This would in turn pave the way for more users hopping on the IM wagon, and ergo becoming yet another factor for IMs’ success worldwide!
Editor’s note: 2015 will be an interesting year for Instant Messengers. Many companies in this space are going to start monetising on this opportunity since they have reached a critical mass. These chat apps have evolved into more, providing ways for companies to connect to their audience. Apps like Line, Viber and BBM are allowing brands to come in and interact with audiences. With the power of push notifications, the engagement factor is very high and direct. Even music artists who rely huge on social media are moving here. Last year I also saw how a company called Disruptive Multimedia (backed by rapper Ryan Leslie) created an app for artists to directly engage their fans to get a direct channel to interact with them. I also saw how companies like Zula catered to a niche solution of team communication. Getting back to general IMs, their is serious competition in the space but each messenger has some unique features, giving them dominance is certain markets. With social media eating into engagement between brands and their fans, IMs definitely have a big opportunity.