Published on Sep 22,2015
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At first sight, instant messaging (IM) apps and marketing seem to be at odds with each other. After all, most of us are used to communicating with friends and family through popular IM apps like Whatsapp, Viber, Kik, Snapchat etc. The thought that brands can penetrate this medium of communication for marketing purposes thus appears to be slightly counter-intuitive. But it is important that we look beyond our pre-conceived notions and examine the facts – IM apps have a massive user base that is extremely active (according to statista.com, Whatsapp has nearly 800 million monthly active users sending 30 billion messages everyday). Most users of IM apps are part of the 18-24 age group which is perfect for up-and-coming brands and most importantly, IM apps have been largely ignored by most brands which means lesser competition for the user’s attention.

As this is unchartered territory for most brands, there aren’t clear best practices for marketing on IM apps. That said, there are still some guidelines you should try to comply with, should your brand decide to reach customers through IM apps:

#1 Create groups to reach your target audience

IM apps provide the most powerful means of segmentation of an audience as it is possible to interact with one person directly, or a group of people with shared interests. Most IM apps allow you to create such groups and it is through these groups that you can break up your audience and share content with them that is relevant to their needs.

Of course, the audience you will reach will be miniscule as compared to sharing content through your Twitter or Facebook page, but when using IM apps and groups you have the certainty that each user is actually consuming your content. In other words, the engagement that can be achieved through IM app groups is far greater in comparison to anything seen on social media channels.

#2 Personalize your content

The most important difference between IM marketing and social media marketing is the fact that with IM apps, you are achieving direct, one-to-one communication with the user. IM apps are inherently personal in nature. If your brand starts sharing generic, one-size-fits-all content on IM apps, it will stick out like a sore thumb and will ultimately be ineffective.

The remedy to this is to personalize the content you share with your audience to make them feel that your brand is speaking to them on a personal level and not as a part of a massive marketing campaign in which they are just another name on a list.

#3 Respond to your audience

In addition to being a one-to-one communication channel, IM app interactions are also a two-way street. In other words, it is not just enough that you’re reaching your audience; it should also be possible for your audience to reach you.

We’ve all observed the impact social media has had on humanizing brands. No longer are brands faceless entities; any time you want, you can interact with a representative of your favourite brand through their social media channels. And with IM apps, this humanizing effect can be taken one step further and be used to form a relationship with the audience.

Your audience will expect you to respond to them on IM apps just like they expect their friends to do. It is thus important that you don’t let them down; positive two-way interactions will go a long way in humanizing your brand in the eyes of your customers.

#4 Provide value to your audience

In addition to personalizing your interactions, it is also important that you provide your audience with some value, something they can utilize to enrich their lives. Whether it is in the form of coupons and promotional offers or simply educational content that is relevant to the audience’s interests, content with value is what will keep the users coming back for more.

#5 Customize content based on the channel

Different IM apps come with their own set of distinct functional elements – Snapchat allows users to share images that expire after a certain period of time, whereas Line has a burgeoning ‘sticker’ industry. Using these elements, brands can customize their content to achieve greater acceptability with the app’s users; if you speak the language of the users, it will be easier for them to accept you as one of their own.

#6 Leverage social media to grow your IM following

If your brand has a significant social media following, it is advisable to leverage it to grow your base on IM apps. Cross-channel promotion is extremely important as IM apps are yet to open themselves up for in-app brand promotion. It may happen in the future, but until then, using social media to grow your number on IM apps is the best alternative.

IM app marketing is still in its infancy and like we said, best practices do not exist yet. This may appear daunting to some brands that aren’t willing to take a chance but for those willing to experiment and engage with their fans in new and exciting ways, IM apps provide the perfect platform!

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