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Friday, 17 May 2013

Chat Apps : The hottest trend of 2013

Chat apps have been around for a long time without achieving a critical mass. Especially in feature phone dominant markets like India, SMS was the staple for communication, telemarketing databases and Value Added Services including news alerts, stock tips etc. 2012 was the year when it all changed.

Analysts Informa report that in 2012, 19 billion messages were sent globally through chat applications, overtaking SMS for the first time. The figure assumes significance when you consider that there are just 500 million chat application users vs. 3.5 billion users of SMS. Clearly, chat applications are sticky and create high levels of consumer engagement. 

App analyst firm Onavo creates an App Rank chart based on the number of times an app is used (indicating engagement level). Data collected from US iPhone users showed some interesting trends in chat apps. They represent a low volume (low download) but high engagement cluster. Viber and Kik have 5% engagement levels in USA and are growing rapidly. To understand what this means, consider this - leading blockbuster games like Fruit Ninja and Angry Birds have paltry engagement levels of 1.9-2.6%. These games have millions of downloads and huge brand recognition, yet like most games, they struggle to gain the users interest after an initial period. Chat apps continue to draw users back, just like social media networks. Indeed, it is possible that they will form alternate social media networks comprising smaller, more intimate groups of friends and colleagues, a.k.a BBM.

The importance of chat applications will grow as smartphone penetration increases and telecom operators are recognising this. Recently Pakistan operator Mobilink announced a deal with Nimbuzz, to give its users unlimited access to the platform for a flat fee - Aircel has a similar deal in India. In the US, Path cut a deal with Sprint to become a pre-loaded application on select Samsung and HTC phones.  

Chat applications are hugely popular in Asia. Messengers like Kakao Talk (89 million users), QQ Line and Tango (120 million users) have huge user bases rivalling social media networks. Also, many of these companies are adding games, video and music to their chat offering in a bid to challenge the dominance of Facebook. Add to the equation research studies which suggest that teens find Facebook old and fuddy-duddy. It appears that messaging apps will be the hot trend of 2013.

Our perspective - brands that want to be on the cutting edge, especially with the youth centric smartphone audience, need to explore creative ways to use chat applications as an engagement platform. Whether it is through creating a dialogue with customers, or through more conventional ways of pushing content that can be shared. 

Sources : TechCrunchBGR