Did you know that according to the recent Business Insider Report ‘Social Media Census 2013’, three of the world’s top 10 social media properties are the messaging platforms WhatsApp, LINE, and WeChat? Anyone who’s been monitoring the usual roster of news and tech sites in recent weeks will have hopefully picked up on a slew of articles and news pieces pointing to the fact that today’s global youth are apparently abandoning the major established social media networks such as Facebook and turning to chat as the new social frontier.
The whole question about teens moving to chat apps was sparked in the recent Facebook Q3 2013 earnings which revealed that teen activity on the network was in decline. This is obviously not a good thing for the social network insofar as teens are seen as the lifeblood of social media and the barometer of change. This decline was independently confirmed by GlobalWebIndex who provided the pretty startling fact that “56% of US teens claim to be active on Facebook in Q3 2013, down 35% from Q1 2013 (76%). This is a substantial decline but also one that is mirrored globally (excluding China).” Ultimately, social networks are a bit like music, teens like something because it is edgy and a bit underground which Facebook was; then their mums dads and uncles all got in on the act and ruined the party, permanently removing Facebook’s sheen. I’m a 40 year old man and as active as I am on Facebook there is no way that I’m making friends with my mum, or my kids for that matter.
So, the kid’s move on and find the next big thing or go to the places that the adults aren’t hanging around in. The alleged offer of Facebook to buy Snapchat for a staggering $3 billion (which was duly turned down by Snapchat), points to the fact that chat apps are very likely where the kids are heading. Sure, Facebook has its own standalone messenger app but the fact they tried to buy SnapChat means that other services are capturing what teens are looking for. In Snapchat’s case it’s the provision of an insurance policy for the ‘oversharing’ generation who seem to upload the most embarrassing photos with wild abandon (if you want to read about the pitfalls of Snapchat read our earlier piece here on the service’s darker side).
We also mustn’t miss the mobile angle here. Pretty much all social media today is being used on mobiles, so chat and messaging apps are best at home on mobile devices, especially for sharing the endless amount of ‘selfies’ that seem to be the flavour of the day. There’s also the issue of privacy. Facebook’s complex and labyrinthine set of privacy options buried deep inside the options remain a permanent frustration to those who want privacy to be easy and by default – and this is mostly the teens who don’t want their parents knowing what they’re doing. Mobile chat apps are much more closed and easy to restrict who sees what than Facebook that seems to change its policies all the time to bypass people’s default desire for some degree of privacy.
A recent article from the Guardian on 10 November paints a very good and comprehensive picture of why teens are moving towards chat apps. Many of the reasons I’ve covered above, but another interesting one is that chat apps are no longer just about chat. They are enabling teens to share not just photos but other media including music and some of them even sell digital ‘stickers’ (see more about them here) which are pretty much what we know as ‘emoticons’. Just take a look at LINE, the Japanese chat app. As the Guardian article states “Of the $58m the company made in sales in the first quarter of 2013, half came from selling games and 30%, or roughly $17m, from sales of its 8,000 different stickers.”
There is little doubt that the battle for teens social hearts and minds is only just beginning. Facebook. Twitter and Google are all making aggressive moves on the chat front and this is before we take into account LINE, WhatsApp, Snapchat, WeChat and the other emerging services that are vying to take control of the teens’ social lives (and pockets). What’s clear is that this is an incredibly fast moving market, and whilst the reports of Facebook’s death may have been greatly exaggerated, marketers would do well to keep one eye firmly on the world of chat apps to see which way the social wind is blowing.
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