BY Tacita McEvoy 6 MINUTE READ

“Messaging is one of the few things that people do more than social networking” – Mark Zuckerburg, 2014.

Zucks’ famous quote explains the $19 billion acquisition of WhatsApp and the standalone Facebook Messenger app which we’ve been forced to use – why have a stand-alone messenger platform on mobile and not desktop? Well, it’s because they’re gearing for the next wave of Messaging.


Before we were broadcasting our lives one-way we were engaging in chat rooms and sending emoticons and nudges on MSN Messenger. MSN users were shifted to Skype in 2013, where they stayed away from any social media functionality.

So as our social feeds get more and more overcrowded by sponsored messaging and Game of Thrones memes we’re looking to get back to basics. Not sure if this means the revival of the chat room, but wouldn’t it be nice if we could connect with new people without the fear of being ‘catfished’. One saving grace is that people are starting to use LinkedIn as a means to connect with new people in a professional capacity, as we’re able to view employment references and work experience before replying to an unsolicited message.


With the information overload of the World Wide Web it’s become impossible to consume all the media we’re exposed to on a daily basis, and then we still have to find time to post about our own lives. With limited time we’re sometimes faced with a choice – post or chat, and it’s always chatting. In a nutshell, we’re spending more time chatting than posting and brands want a piece of this pie – and they’ll get their fix soon enough.


We’ve been left in the dark by the Dark Social phenomenon for years – how do we know if consumers share our brand stories off social platforms through messages i.e. iMessage from Dan: “Dude did you see those new Nike sneakers on Facebook – just bought a pair in store.” Eek! This gives marketers the chills when thinking of a dismal click-through rate on a social media campaign that has actually been performing well on a messaging platform.


So what does the face of messaging disruption look like? We can gain some insight into the future by looking into the past at what didn’t work. Unfortunately, the Mxit craze of most SA millennials’ youth never survived, but why did this golden child of messaging die a quick painful death? Rapid innovation was not possible – Mxit rose during the Nokia era where enabling your WAP settings opened up hours of chat at almost no cost. But with the launch of the smartphone Mxit failed to serve a premium app offering and its loyal users soon migrated to WhatsApp without worrying about their lost moola. Innovating quickly is key, but as former FNB CEO and Mxit chairman Michael Jordaan commented to Fin24: “Mxit could have been WhatsApp if it had acted two years faster”.

It had the perfect chat hybrid: one-on-one private messaging and group chats, chat rooms where you could meet new people and a business offering where brands could interact with fans in real-time. The next chat platform that is able to integrate brand communication seamlessly, without too many bells and whistles, will rule the roost. It’s possibly why WeChat’s all-in-one offering has not monopolised outside of Asia, where the government and corporate sponsorships also play a big part in standardising one platform for all.


With no sponsored content, no media space, and no place for spammy direct messages from unknown numbers, WhatsApp has kept their offering a true messaging platform.

But there is a business solution in the air and WhatsApp can’t help but tease us in their T’s & C’s: From -We will explore ways for you and businesses to communicate with each other using WhatsApp, such as through order, transaction, and appointment information, delivery and shipping notifications, product and service updates, and marketing. Marketing Managers make sure to set some budget aside in 2018 for messenger marketing.

But being an early adopter is key and some brands are already using the basic WhatsApp features to their advantage. Here are some tips to get started.

  1. Create and display your WhatsApp number Your WhatsApp number should be included next to your social icons on any communication. You can add the ‘Click to Chat’ link provided by WhatsApp, which opens a chat on mobile or desktop. All you need to do is add your international number (+27) at the end of this link https://api.
  2. Create an engaging persona We gravitate towards messaging for the personal connection, so brands need to do just that – create a personal experience for the user. This can be done by creating a fictional character that represents the personality of the brand. A great example of this is when Absolut Vodka created the fictional Doorman ‘Sven’. The public had to message Sven on WhatsApp and persuade him that they should be invited to their launch party, and yes, he did receive videos, voice notes and a few indecent proposals as means of persuasion – but he stuck to his persona and nothing really rattled him.
  3. Start building an authentic database The Absolut example is great because users went to the brand instead of the other way around. In one go the brand had a cell phone number for their database and the user had the brand’s details saved on their phone without any hard-sell or spam. An authentic database is key to converting users into fans. Becareful about sending unsolicited WhatsApp messages even to an opt-in database; make them come to you.
  4. Make use of the ideal customer service tool Within the multitude of app notifications and inbox messages what you check first are your WhatsApps. Customers being able to message a brand and get instant responses is first prize, so when creating a customer service chat number ensure you are adequately staffed as unread/ unresponded blue ticks can put a negative sentiment on your brand and create more frustration.
  5. Be careful with groups Many SMEs communicate promotions with fans through WhatsApp groups, but these groups are limited to 256 users – which seems like a little but remember how annoyed you get when you look at your phone after a 2hr meeting and there are 50 messages on Lisa’s bachelorette group. Creating small groups for departmental communication or your running group can work but when sending promotional material on WhatsApp it’s better to send directly to individuals so that you get one- on-one responses without spamming a group


The big question on our minds is will the business offering be monetized or will we need to pay to advertise? Or an even bigger question – will users need to pay for WhatsApp – 1 Billion users each paying $5 a year adds up and has surely crossed their minds. With our Facebook feed being a circus at the moment there have been talks of a paid ad-free account. Would you subscribe?


While WhatsApp seems to be the mobile messaging king with 1 billion users, Facebook forcing us to use their messenger app has put them in the lead with 1.2 billion. Having a stand-alone app enables Facebook to add more features tailored towards messaging only.

Some awesome Messenger innovations include ‘M’ – your virtual assistant on messenger (Coming soon to SA). M recognises what you and your friends are talking about and gives you suggestions to make your life easier. Saying thank you? – M provides some cool thank you emojis. Paying a friend back? – M provides a handy peer- to-peer payment button. Chatting about what to have for dinner? – M suggests some local restaurants you might like. Thanks, M!


What we love most about the FB Messenger innovations are the chatbots. If you haven’t started experimenting with chatbots you’re going to be left behind, but if you’re already in the dark, a chatbot is an automated response on Facebook Messenger. It uses AI to identify a customer’s query and provides an automated response. It can be as broad as sending a standard promotional message to everyone who comments on your page to providing answers to specific FAQs.

In the US, chat and e-commerce are already merging with bots. Through machine learning bots are able to identify what e-commerce items you might like and send you ideas through Messenger – and guess what, you can even check out and pay within a message – wonder what the auto-response would be to ‘Can I really afford these shoes?’

We all know that open honest communication is key to any relationship – and that’s exactly how brands are going to retain customer loyalty. If you’re going to invest in messenger marketing make sure to spend time on the copy, and remember that tone of voice and personality are your new UX and design.