Connect With Your Customers Using Messaging Apps
Two of the most popular messaging apps in use today are WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. Both are owned by Facebook.
According to Statista.com, as of October 2019, WhatsApp had 1.6 billion monthly active users and Facebook Messenger another 1.3 billion.
That’s nearly 3 billion users in total.
While more than a few of these users may be teenagers discussing a homework assignment or planning their next social event, many are not. Even for companies that don’t market their product or solution to teenagers, many of these mobile messaging app users are their customers.
Many people are attracted to these apps because they are free and simple to use. Business executives gravitate to these tools because of their end-to-end encryption security features. Sales and marketing professionals, however, use these apps because they understand that it takes more than ads, a website, email campaigns, or social media posts to create a real relationship with their customers.
Just as how in “the old days” companies would go to great lengths to ensure that their potential customers were persuaded to “call or come in today,” today’s marketers make that personal connection with mobile messaging apps.
The use of text messaging is exploding. For many population segments, texting is the primary form of communication. The shift away from a preference for voice calls toward a preference for text messages is best illustrated by the all-too-common text message asking if this is a good time for a phone call. While this text message makes perfect sense to Gen Xers, Millennials, and Gen Zs, Boomers tend to scratch their heads and wonder why they didn’t just call in the first place.
If people have a strong preference for texting over calling or emailing for personal matters, it is only natural that that preference extends to their communications with businesses as well. Most of the U.S. economy is now powered by the post Boomer generations.
Technology may have changed how people prefer to communicate, but there remains an inclination to purchase from companies, or more precisely people within companies, that are liked and trusted. Without personal interaction it is nearly impossible to engender fondness or trust. Mobile messaging apps provide a means by which consumers to communicate directly with a company, using their preferred method of texting, and still have the desired human interaction.
Facebook states that “among U.S. messaging app users who have messaged a business in the last three months, 69% report that the ability to message a business helps them feel more confident about the brand.” Brand confidence translates directly to brand loyalty.
For companies that have a presence on Facebook, using Messenger to close the gap between building brand awareness and acquiring new customers is seamless and natural. The customer has already demonstrated that Facebook is a place they like to spend time and find products. Once they have interacted with an ad, page, or post, users are not at all surprised to hear from the seller. Often this personal touch is appreciated.
In addition to responding to customer’s inquiries, mobile messaging can be used to push news of new products or promo codes. An intentional plan of staying in touch with the customer throughout the sales cycle will help ensure a positive outcome for the seller.
If a consumer has already made a purchase, mobile messaging is the perfect tool for following up on the sale, providing additional information, and provide them a sense of confidence in their purchase decision.
Messenger or WhatsApp?
As mentioned above, Facebook owns Messenger and WhatsApp, so it is important to understand the differences between the two apps and how they can and should be used. Combined, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp account for somewhere in the neighborhood of 75% of the entire messaging market.
The best way to envision the difference between Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp is to consider that Messenger is baked-in to the Facebook platform. True, it requires a second app, over and above the Facebook app, to use Messenger - but the features and hooks are deeply connected back to the platform. WhatsApp, on the other hand, is a stand-alone product without ties back to Facebook’s platform.
Facebook, in what has become a storied acquisition, purchased WhatsApp from two ex-Yahoo employees in 2014 for a whopping $19 billion. It has continued to grow and has as of yet been left to operate as a separate entity. WhatsApp provides the world’s largest platform for sending text messages, images, voice messages, videos, documents, GIFs, and voice/video calls.
For context, WhatsApp is the right tool for reaching a large number of people around the world using any conceivable format. Facebook Messenger is the best fit for sellers that are heavily invested in their Facebook presence and want to expand the effectiveness of Facebook as a marketing tool.
How to Get the Most From Facebook Messenger
In its online marketing materials, Facebook provides suggestions about how to get the most from the Messenger App when using it as a business tool. They suggest four steps - plan, create, reach, and optimize.
A well thought out approach to any business communication is critical. This is especially true when connecting with customers through their cell phones. Consumers expect junk mail, spam email, and even unsolicited telephone calls. For many, however, being contacted by a seller through a text message or mobile messaging app can seem like a breach of their privacy if it is not done correctly. Facebook has built-in protection to prevent unwanted solicitations via Messenger. WhatsApp, on the other hand, has no similar restriction.
Contact with customers via a mobile messaging app should be part of a well-defined business objective. Contact should be triggered by an action on the part of the consumer. Random unsolicited text messages from an unknown company are rarely received well. But a thoughtful response to an inquiry, site visit, or post engagement is often viewed as professional and courteous.
A marketing strategy that includes the use of mobile messaging should follow a step-by-step plan that prescribes what messages are sent to what consumers in response to a specific action. The consumer’s action that triggered the message should be clear to them. This can be accomplished by the immediacy of the response or it can be referenced in the message. The objective, or call to action, should also be made clear as well.
Facebook provides tools to help companies provide live or automated messaging for visitors to their Facebook page. To provide a simple live chat experience, administrators can turn on Page Messaging to respond manually. There are also automated tools such as greetings, instant replies, and away messages.
There are tools specific to lead generation that qualify visitors through a series of automated questions prompted by custom answer flow templates.
To protect their users from unwanted Messenger solicitations Facebook requires that the user initiate the conversation with the seller. This conversation entry point can be accomplished in several ways. Commonly a “Send Message” button will be added to the seller’s Facebook page or post. Interested users will click on the button to begin either a live or automated Messenger communication session or sequence.
Other ways to provide a conversation entry point include a chat plugin for the seller’s off-platform website or ads that click to Messenger can appear on Facebook and Instagram. The requirement that users initiate the communication protects them from unwanted solicitation and also provides higher-quality leads for the sellers that use Messaging in their marketing strategy.
As with all marketing efforts, gaining the best results with mobile messaging apps is more of an art than a science. It is important to experiment with different options, greetings, messages, and placement. Track and compare results. Learn from what works and change what doesn’t.
It is important to note that the use of messaging apps for business to consumer communication is still novel enough that it represents a significant opportunity for those companies choosing to use it. Many consumers, with all other things being equal, will choose to do business with a firm they can reach via text message. They are more comfortable with this method of communication and it fits their lifestyle better.
Email marketing campaigns are becoming less-and-less effective. This method has been so overused that many people keep a separate email account to be used whenever they suspect an online interaction will likely result in more junk email. They then seldom read messages from this account and hold their “real” email account very close to the vest. Many estimates suggest that marketing emails are opened less than 30% of the time - sometimes much less. Text messages, however, are read about 98% of the time.
Many experts predict that if mobile text messaging is overused by solicitors, as were all of its predecessors - namely telephone sales calls, junk and spam email, and junk snail mail - it won’t be long before more restrictive legislation will be called for to limit this type of communication as well. While it seems unlikely to happen, it would behoove all marketers to use mobile messaging responsibly in an effort to avoid oversaturation of the consumer.