Are social media messaging apps—Facebook Messenger, What’sApp, and Twitter DMs—the last bastion of untapped advertising space?

Many in marketing believe so, and the stats seem to support that idea.

  • Facebook Messenger has 1.3 billion monthly users and 2 billion messages are sent on the platform every day.
  • What’sApp also has 1.3 billion active monthly users and an astonishing 55 billion messages are sent using the platform every day.
  • What’s more, 49.4% of consumers prefer contacting businesses through messaging apps rather than over the phone, and 46% prefer messages over email.

So is messenger app advertising the next big thing?

The stats don’t lie. Social media messaging is the new frontier for many brand communications, but those communications are most frequently initiated by the consumer. The question of whether or not these spaces are ripe for advertising real estate is a hotly debated one. The messaging sections of social media platforms are generally off-feed, leaving them virtually free from sponsored ads and other marketing content. But with numbers like those above, can brands afford not to tap into that avenue of communication with their target audience? Let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages

SMS messaging

Advertising through texting is not incredibly new, but the ways in which effective marketing texts are sent is rapidly evolving, not just through simple SMS messages but through beacon advertising and proximity marketing. This form can be inexpensive. When customers agree to receive texts from your brand, all you need is a bulk SMS service and a campaign, and you’re good to go.

The perfect example is that of a local pizza restaurant sending discount codes to be used through online ordering in answer to the ever present question of what’s for dinner. These texts bring the customer to the website, where they’re exposed to all the offers currently available, not just the one that piqued their interest through the text message.

The campaigns are also only as limited as your imagination, including flash deals lasting one day, a weekly rotating discount offered on varying menu items, or one-time offers to bring new customers in the door.

Frequent customers may not always take advantage, but the right deal at the right time could bring them to your pizza parlor more frequently than normal.

Immediate communications

With instant messaging campaigns, you can immediately reach your target audience.

Like the stats above detail, people prefer messaging with brands now more than speaking on the phone.

Being accessible to your customers through messaging apps is appealing, and problems can be resolved as immediately as a phone call allows.

With the mobility of messaging apps, people can quickly receive answers to questions wherever they are in real-time, and this could give your brand the edge it needs over competitors who have limited phone hours.

Go to the audience

1.3 billion users a day.

Messaging apps like What’sApp and Facebook Messenger are where consumers are hanging out.

By advertising within the app space, you’re letting those users know your brand is available to them through those apps should they need anything from you. It’s a great way to get the word out that your company is ready and willing to help them through whatever form of communication they prefer.

Personalization

The rise of greater personalization in advertising makes messaging apps the obvious choice for that one-on-one feeling of connection between consumers and the brands they like.

Facebook already has sophisticated algorithms that help identify the best audience for targeted ads, so you can rest assured your advertising dollars will put your campaign in front of the right people. By appealing to your market in the last untapped space on the web, you have the opportunity to prove you know your audience, and that your brand can enhance their lives in a very personal way.

Disadvantages

Adding to the noise

But not everyone would be open to the idea of adding targeted marketing to one of the last places on the internet they can go to get away from the noise of today’s advertising economy.

There aren’t many news/politics/product links in the existing messaging apps, so to many, the messaging space of their preferred social media platform is their refuge.

It’s the last quiet digital place users can go to have meaningful interaction with their friends and loved ones.

Invading that is like having a carnival barker at coffee shop or neighborhood pub when they’re trying to catch up with their favorite people.

Experience interrupted

Ads, even unobtrusive ones, will interrupt the user experience. Currently on Facebook, sponsored ads look like another conversation in a list of ongoing conversations users are having. To find a message there from a local instant oil change shop is jarring. Mobile screens have limited real estate. To take up even a portion of that space for advertising, brands risk irritating their target audience by attracting negative attention.

The last thing people want to do is scroll through a slew of advertising chats to get to the one they’re looking for.

Out of context

Sponsored ads in search engine results are fine. Ads on sites specifically visited for shopping purposes are fine, as long as they’re relevant. Even ads in the scrolling feed of platforms like Twitter are okay because they’re tailored to the user experience based on cookies and browsing history. They’re expected. They’ve become the norm.

Ads in a space that has previously been reserved for eyes-only conversations between friends are invasive in a normally non-commercial area.

They’re an interruption.

People open messaging apps with the intention of speaking to someone. They want to read received messages, or send messages to someone. Sidetracking that purpose won’t always endear your brand to the person being interrupted, and it’s increasing the noise they could very well be trying to escape in the first place.

Privacy

With the interjection of your brand into an otherwise untapped space comes the question, how much are the people receiving the ads being targeted? If a conversation between friends about the best dog leashes then turns up an ad for a dog leash in the messaging app, users are more likely to feel their conversations are being read by people they don’t intend to read them. Some say this is already happening. But even the perception of being eavesdropped on could lead some consumers to swear off the brands that appear in their messaging, especially if the subject of the ad hits too close to home.

  • What does your brand stand to gain by advertising in instant messaging apps?
  • Are your customers more interested in speaking with you outside of phone and email communications?
  • Are you better able to serve your customers through messaging apps?

If your interactions with your customers are increasingly through direct messages on Twitter or Facebook Messenger, perhaps your audience would be open to receiving marketing messages through those platforms. For the moment, these off-feed apps lend users a certain amount of privacy. The brands who take the plunge and begin advertising on this last of digital frontiers will need to weigh the risk of pioneering this avenue of marketing or alienating their audience entirely.


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