Consumers Have Found New Digital Homes, & Brands Must Follow

By Caitlin Gutekunst, Head of Digital IP at StartApp

As consumption of digital content continues to fracture across new and emerging platforms, it has become increasingly challenging for publishers and brands to build and engage an audience through the app store. Most mobile users spend 85% time in their top 5 apps (Comscore, Sept 2016) and rarely download any new apps.

Meanwhile, top social platforms and social messengers continue to climb in downloads and monthly active users. It is common now for messengers to have monthly active user numbers in the hundreds of thousands; look at WeChat (846 Million MAU) and Facebook (1.8 billion MAU — 1.74 accessing via mobile). To cater to this increasingly active user base, social and messaging platforms have recently introduced new opportunities for content distribution and monetization, opening a new frontier for brands and advertisers to reach consumers.

To fully take advantage of this new mobile frontier, brands that enter this social space should design their content in a style specific to the use cases of casual, social platforms. The most successful sticker apps and emoji keyboards, for example, are built around common human expression. Common sticker expressions reflect casual moments common to the human experience, such as “OMW!” (on my way!) or find a new way to express the most popular emoji, “crying laughing”. Similarly, providing the opportunity to take a fun selfie with an AR overlay featuring your brand on a camera app can amplify engagement by tapping into the social norms of creativity and quirkiness in the photo sharing space. With the right tone, brand-loyal consumers will choose to represent themselves in tandem with your brand just as they use their Bitmoji avatar in Snapchat.

‘With the right tone, brand-loyal consumers will choose to represent themselves in tandem with your brand”

Adapting your brand and content to social media platforms can also open up new revenue streams and connect you to new audiences. For example, chat bots present a frictionless way for consumers to chat with a digital assistant and find the exact pair of sunglasses or makeup shade, book tickets to the movies, or hail an Uber. A digital assistant within a social platform can deliver branded content or experiences on-demand, finally connecting you with those “hidden” digital consumers who don’t want to download apps or navigate a larger mobile web environment and converting them into paying customers.

The transition from brands launching standalone apps to creating content specifically designed to be packaged inside these social platforms raises interesting questions for kids’ entertainment brands and publishers, especially when it comes to online safety and monetization regulations. Although the average age for kids in the US to get their first smartphone is 10.3 (TechCrunch, May 2016), most social platforms have an age limit and content rating of 13+ meaning that brands with a younger target audience may have challenges finding an active audience on these specific channels. While social networks may be off limits to the younger crowd, kids and teens are actually heavy users of the content-rich features on social messaging apps. For example, 60% of Snapchat’s user base (200 Million global MAU) is under 25, with 25% of these users below 17 (Statista, Aug 2016). Given that the incoming generation of consumers are true digital natives, brands will find them to be a highly engaged and rewarding audience to attract, provided that digital privacy laws like COPPA are considered and followed.

“The incoming generation of consumers are true digital natives”

The evolution of social and messaging apps into full-fledged content platforms has been interesting to watch and follow. The exponential growth and incredibly active user base –of all ages and backgrounds — means that brands looking to enter the emerging social apps space will find an audience eager to engage. The true challenge for brands now is finding the right strategy for these channels, one that not only provides a high-value experience, but also follows the social community norms and expectations, maintains the crucial human element in private conversational spaces, and stays aware of the obstacles involved in targeting certain audiences.

Time will tell how much the “social & messaging app revolution” will transform the digital and mobile market, but brands cannot pass up this opportunity to engage their audience in such a novel, personal way.