Instant messaging: There’s something big going on

In a smartphone dominated world, instant messaging is becoming the major communication tool

If we think about instant messaging what kind of mobile apps jump you in mind?

Probably the first one is WhatsApp, if you are older. After the acquisition by Facebook for $19 billion it is probably the most popular here.

Actually, the messaging apps usage is growing tremendously with a total global audience raising by 40% since the beginning of 2013 (GlobalWebIndex)

numbers mobile messaging users

80% of online adults own a smartphone and three-quarters say that they are regularly using the mobile internet connection. And of course, they communicate with instant messaging apps. With people no longer willing to share everything with everyone on social networks, mobile messaging apps have become the ideal place for both one to one and group chats. But what these apps are?

top messaging app

As you can see, WeChat (Tencent) has a huge penetration (nearly 40%) in the APAC region. In fact, WeChat remains wildly popular in its home nation of China, where users are the vast majority of online adults. This means WeChat has about 50 million users more than the closest rival, Facebook MessengerWeChat’s user base has also a younger age profile:


chat app wechat

With these numbers is pretty clear WeChat is a name to watch in the rest of 2014 and over. Indeed, while WeChat’s audience size in other regions remains more modest, “it has, over the last two years, been experiencing considerable levels of growth across the Americas, Europe and MENA, too (as just one example, its LatAm audience size rose by 250% between Q1 2013 and Q3 2014″

A chat with WeChat

Now, since WeChat is the leading app, I considered to be interesting deepen the instant messaging topic and future with a protagonist of this demanding business. I met Andrea Ghizzoni, Country Director Italy of WeChat, to better understand this scenario and its future.

Hi Andrea, thanks for your time and availability. The numbers speak for themselves, WeChat is the leading mobile messaging app worldwide. What are currently the numbers in Europe, USA and also Italy?

Thank you to host me here, Stefano, it’s my pleasure being here today! Yes, WeChat numbers are impressive, and keep increasing at a very good pace. Unfortunately we are not allowed to share country specific figures, but we recently reached 468Mn active users worldwide, making WeChat the app used by nearly a quarter of the world’s internet users aged 16-64. This figure is close to 40% in Asia-Pacific, and the portion of international users in other markets is also growing fast. USA and Europe were the last areas in which we entered, and within Europe we are focusing our efforts mainly in Italy right now.

Facebook is of course your direct competitor. Do you think that in the future there will always be separated regional dominance?

Facebook and WeChat at the moment, while dominating two different regions, are characterized by some key differences. Facebook is pushing different apps for different purposes (i.e., FB for social interaction, Whatsapp and FB messenger for instant messaging, …) and focuses its offer for corporations on the possibility to distribute ads / branded content on profiled user segments. WeChat, instead, offers a user experience which is natively based on instant messaging, allowing companies to provide services within the app itself. For example, several eCommerce players already provide their services through WeChat, supporting their customers with personalized advices via chat, gamification and other features to develop their business directly within WeChat. Same applies to several retailers, which are leveraging WeChat as a platform for local marketing, to push in-store promotions and customer care. These differences, among others, outline different users habits. While I think that there will be some convergence, I still see room for both platforms at least in the western world in the near future, as they perform better in different user occasions.

Why WeChat is so popular among the younger population? What make it different from the others?

It is much more than just a chat, allowing them to enjoy several social experiences within an instant messaging environment. Some examples:
 – public group chats: whenever a group chat is created, WeChat automatically generates a QR code associated to that. Anybody scanning that code can enter the chat, without sharing any private information (e.g., phone number, …). For example, in Italy we created group chats linked to a TV show about video games. People just scan the QR code on the tv to start chatting with other viewers of the show, sharing the same passion about video games. The important thing, here, is that these are real chats, so people keep discussing even days after the show, developing true friendships and using the group as their place to comment any news about the topic
 – stickers: animated emoticons, which we publish every week, have become a real communication tool especially for young users. In WeChat, every sticker can be easily linked to a specific word, making them a key part of their chats. Through stickers, users can express their feelings in a more funny, relaxed way…this helps especially younger users express themselves.
 – games: Tencent, the company behind WeChat, is also one of the biggest producers of video games worldwide. While being stand alone apps, these games are integrated with WeChat through the WeChat login, hence users can challenge friends directly from WeChat and find new opponents leveraging WeChat social features (e.g., find opponents nearby)

We are seeing a huge penetration of these messaging apps. Do you think instant messaging companies will become independent telco operators in the future?

The relationship between telco operators and OTTs is a very articulated topic. Personally, I don’t think instant messaging companies will replace traditional operators, as they lack knowledge and experience in two key areas: management & development of the network infrastructure and customer service. I tend to see instant messaging and telco as two complementary portions of the same service, which is enabling communication and entertainment services for end users.

What are, if you can tell us, the next features WeChat will integrate?

I think we will push forward to keep sophisticating our core features in instant messaging (as we recently did with “sight” a short video maker within the chat to produce 6” clips) and, at the same time, consider developing also in the rest of the world some of the services we already provide in China. I think in particular about services in the field of mobile payments and money transfer. While in countries like Italy, the demand for such services is still relatively small, these are the mega-trends affecting mobile internet, and instant messaging companies can’t stay out of it.

 What your thoughts are about instant messaging?