In the short term, content marketing will not change a great deal following Facebook’s purchase of WhatsApp. But here’s some relatively interesting numbers to mull over: 19 billion, 10 and 693. $19 billion is the price that Facebook paid for the messaging service last week; Facebook is currently celebrating its 10th birthday; and 693 is the incredible amount of Facebook friends I own. Sorry, have.
I use the word ‘relatively’ here for good reason. First, that seemingly astronomical price tag is relatively low if Facebook can successfully monetise the service by actually reaching WhatsApp’s near-500 million users without annoying the hell out of them, Google boss Eric Schmidt has hinted. However, WhatsApp’s founders are famously vehement when it comes to the intrusiveness of advertising and Facebook promises it won’t change a thing about the ad-free app. This, of course, remains to be seen.
As for those other two figures, I think 693 is a relatively decent slice of friend pie, and 10 years is a relatively short amount of time in business terms. In internet years, however, 10 was more than enough time to forge a substantial generational gap. Sure, I’m connected with 693 people – well, realistically it’s a fraction of that, but this is my blog and for the purposes of it I will purport to be extremely popular – that’s because I know those 693 friends are there, on Facebook, and have been for some time. Ergo, I wouldn’t go anywhere else to chat to them. But go through everyone’s Facebook friend lists and there’s sure to be a cut-off point in terms of age and demographics.
Social media: the next generation
In those 10 years several generations of social media users have evolved. Essentially it boils down to the fact that the kids don’t want to be on Facebook because their mums and dads are on it. But for our purposes it means that the content on these different channels as they emerge is variously tailored. Quite simply, Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp taps a number of social media generations, pouring into one massive, hyper-connected global audience that CEO Mark Zuckerberg predicts will hit 1 billion. And that, my friends, is what $19 billion buys you.
It also buys a much-needed overhaul to Facebook’s mobile penetration. Facebook must become completely mobile-friendly if it wants to keep growing and compete with much-used apps like Vine and Snapchat. WhatsApp is just that – a major foray into integrated mobile for practically every generation of social media user with a smartphone. It may also signal the shape of things to come – that mobile territory is being encroached upon more and more by the internet’s big players. Or it could just be that Facebook has conceded that its Messenger service just doesn’t cut it on mobile.
Indeed, Jan Koum, WhatsApp’s co-founder and presumably now the owner of a gold-plated rocket car fuelled by champagne and aspiration, announced at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week that WhatsApp will introduce free voice calls in the second quarter of this year. One has to consider the fact that mobile content marketing could take on a different guise if people tend to use WhatsApp as a phone line as well as an SMS/Messenger alternative. And if nothing else it could save some dosh in phone bills.
The financial impetus was clear when Facebook acquired Instagram for $1 billion. In content marketing terms brands use the photo-sharing app service to tell their stories visually, which presents enormous marketing opportunities. And just as Instagram moved on from being a simple way to share photos with your friends to being a means for people to document their stories, WhatsApp is becoming more than just a person-to-person messaging service; it’s hosting content. People already share pictures and videos as well as send messages. Turning this into a storytelling platform is the next logical step without the need for an advertising push so condemned by WhatsApp’s founders.
Absolut promotion of WhatsApp
Absolut Vodka cleverly jumped on WhatsApp last July when other companies pointedly ignored its digital promotion potential. To promote the launch of Limited Edition Absolut Unique in Argentina and build a buzz about the brand, the Swedish spirit-maker planned an exclusive launch party with only two tickets available to the public. To get these tickets, punters had to convince a fictional bouncer named Sven via WhatsApp why they were the best candidates. Cue more than 1000 original messages in audio, image and video form, and about 600 contacts for Absolut.
There are a number of content marketing opportunities within WhatsApp. With the above example we see a very direct way of engaging people with the brand in a way that they genuinely care about, not simply paying social media lip service. Southerly writer Angela reported the other day from Social Media Week in New York on Buzzfeed CEO Jonah Peretti’s statement that it is not how many followers or friends a brand has, it’s how many people are making real engaged interactions that counts. For most companies there could be a fair few Facebook friends that liked the page back in 2009, but couldn’t really care less about them now.
Exclusivity is a major draw and WhatsApp can create a new hoard of brand ambassadors by targeting very specifically who receives content. Amy Birch of Social Media Today suggested recently that companies could use chat-based applications to send only the loyal and engaged customers exclusive, ‘leaked’ pictures of new products to build a reputation and make them feel a special part of the brand. Go further and you could offer these fans special discounts or free stuff in return for social promotion on WhatsApp. For instance, you want to sell a new T-shirt, so you send a couple of free T-shirts to select fans who share pictures and videos of themselves wearing one.
WhatsApp presents Facebook with a whole new world of almost 500 million potentially very engaged, young, connected, sparkly and savvy users. How Facebook decides to use WhatsApp will become clearer soon, but what is already evident is that the potential for WhatsApp as a content marketing platform that does not intrude is already being exploited and continues to expand only days after the acquisition. WhatsApp is not just another string to the bow; it’s an opportunity to be uniquely creative in your content marketing strategy.