Five things you need to know about: the new mobile social media tools
New mobile messaging tools that bypass SMS and offer personal, real-time communication are gaining traction and giving the established social media giants a run for their money.
- So what’s new in social messaging apps?
Just months after the text message celebrated its 20th anniversary, it is in danger of suffering the same fate as traditional postal mail as users shift to the next generation of mobile messaging apps. Hundreds of millions of users now collectively send billions of messages every day and their growing ubiquity could even threaten the dominance of Facebook in social media. People are using these apps to connect with their closest friends and relatives, creating new, more intimate social networks. And unlike Facebook, the new apps are designed specifically with the mobile world in mind.
- What’s the fuss about?
These new apps are free or charge a small subscription fee, allow users to bypass the mobile industry’s texting charges and offer new choices in digital socializing. Last year, mobile networks missed out on US$25b of revenue from messaging using internet data connections on mobile devices. Cost aside, the industry claims popularity of social messaging stems from their flexibility and because they allow for more creativity and richer and more personal ways to share information. They are also less monolithic than Facebook, some offering users the option of simpler or less publicly broadcasted social interaction.
- Who are the players?
It’s a market characterized by strong regional players and tribal patterns – Line, for example, is tapping into the popularity of using emoticons in Asia. Snapchat, a photo messaging application that makes photos and videos disappear shortly after they’re viewed, raised US$60m in venture capital funding in June 2013, valuing the company at US$800m. Other networks that have caught on include WeChat, KakaoTalk, WhatsApp, Tumblr, and Viber. Facebook, Apple and BlackBerry, meanwhile, are joining the battle.
- Is Facebook’s dominance really threatened?
Between them, WeChat, WhatsApp and Line claim 750 million users – the same number of people who tap into Facebook’s mobile app each month. The real test will be whether apps can move beyond messaging to become mini social networks or distribution networks for other apps such as games and mobile payments. If that happens, they could lure users away from Facebook and potentially affect its mobile revenues too.
- What do the doubters say?
Despite the strong consumer appetite for these sorts of services, new contenders face the challenge of working out how to make money in a market characterized by low barriers to entry, faddish trends and fickle consumers averse to the intrusion of advertising. Critics say there is little to stop Facebook trying to emulate these start-ups and plug gaps in its service offering accordingly – or it could simply buy them. In December 2012, Facebook rolled out Poke, its own version of Snapchat, and in April this year it launched Home, an application for Android smartphones. Home is a bid (coolly received by users so far) by the social network to put itself ahead of rivals by inserting itself into phone operating systems and home screens, allowing users to message without having to switch between applications. Whether Home succeeds or not, Facebook can point to its growing revenues in mobile, while competitors such as Snapchat so far earn nothing. “It’s not a threat to Facebook – it’s more of a learning experience,” says Neha Dharia, consumer analyst at Ovum.
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