One of the inaugural BigFive Summit’s most compelling sessions spelled out why changes in consumer behavior are pushing messaging to the top of the social media marketing food chain.
Sifiso Mazibuko is a Johannesburg-based former Facebook executive who now works at a social media marketing and consulting agency.
His core message was clear. Messaging is revolutionizing the kind of experience consumers expect from businesses. And businesses small and large need to catch up to this new reality.
He also urged the audience to watch what Facebook is doing around messaging and read it as a very loud signal that this is the direction of all things digital.
“Messaging is a core part of everything that happens at Facebook going forward, and other companies are going to follow suit,” Sifiso said.
To hammer his point home further, Sifiso quotes Asha Sharma, Facebook’s head of consumer product, who said, “If we were to rebuild the social network, we would do so around messaging.”
Too much content, not enough time…
Sifiso began his talk by noting how the pace of content creation has exploded, largely as the result of mobile, digital, and social media.
“The pace of content creation is fast outpacing our ability to consume it,” Sifiso said. He noted, rather alarmingly, that from the beginning of time through 2003, the world produced 5 billion gigabytes of data. “We are now producing 5 billion gigabytes every 10 minutes. Let that sink in.”
This makes it critical for marketers to understand how people are communicating with one another so that businesses can break through the clutter.
Everything competes with everything
Sifiso notes that in this environment of exploding content (driven by mobile) and finite attention, “everything competes with everything.”
He says that “mobile has fundamentally challenged everything we know about marketing,” nothing how consumer mobile adoption happened so much faster than other media.
This left even major platforms like Facebook playing catch up to the mobile revolution. Sifiso argued that if Facebook hadn’t made the pivot to being a mobile-first company when it did, it wouldn’t exist as a company today.
Everyone is trying to understand what consumers are doing and adapting their platforms accordingly, Sifiso said.
The shift to an app-based ecosystem
The shift to smartphones means consumers are consuming content largely through apps. Sifiso notes that South Africa has hit the tipping point where smartphones use is outpacing feature phone use, aided by the availability of increasingly inexpensive smartphones.
Sifiso said 75% of consumers’ time on apps is on the top four mobile apps. When you look at the five most downloaded apps according to Android, listed below, and it becomes very clear that messaging is a major force in consumer behavior.
“Technically speaking, these are all messaging apps,” Sifiso said, noting also that four of the five are owned by Facebook.
The future is private…
Referencing a recent proclamation from Mark Zuckerberg that “the future is private” (irony noted), because people are adopting messaging platforms more precipitously than ever before.
So Facebook is looking at how to build its products around messaging because this is how people want to interact with one another now.
Therefore Facebook is adding end to end encryption on all of its messaging platforms. Previously this had only been true for WhatsApp.
“Everything is being built around privacy. Everything is being built around messaging,” Sifiso noted, referring to Facebook.
“This is a major shift in how they run the company. The fact that they dominate the space makes this a very important conversation to have.”
Changing the nature of communication
Messaging is creeping into everything we do online, Sifiso notes.
One of every three stories on Instagram, for instances, end up in a direct message.
WhatsApp, which started as a texting app, is now a huge platform for video sharing.
“Why is this important? Because this is where people are communicating, and they are not just talking, they are sharing moments with one another.”
Sifiso sees three key motivations driving this explosion in messaging app usage.
“People want to do things on their own time. They want it to be personal. And they need it to be effective and immersive.”
The immediacy imperative
Sifiso said another important outcome of the messaging revolution is the creation of an expectation for immediate communication. We send a message to someone with the expectation that we will receive an immediate reply back.
“That is what consumers are expecting today, and that is what they expect from brands,” Sifiso said.
This is a dramatic paradigm shift in the type of experience consumers are expecting from the businesses they work with.
Sifiso argues that consumer spending will shift rapidly from companies that send consumers to info@ email addresses or to call centers to those that get messaging and personalization right.
Sifiso says automation (messaging bots) is a big part of the messaging future for businesses.
Consumers see social media and messaging apps as a real-time response platform to get their issues addressed with the businesses they deal with.
“None of this is rocket science,” Sifiso said. “This is people saying to businesses, ‘I need you to be able to solve my problem. And I need you to be able to solve them quickly’.”
Sifiso dove into how WhatsApp is building more powerful tools for businesses to use to communicate with their customers and address this need for immediacy outlined above.
Sifiso concluded with a summary that restated his core thesis, that messaging is on the rise and businesses need to adapt to how consumers want to be communicated with.
He also acknowledged that businesses are “behind the curve” in adapting to this fundamental shift, notwithstanding brands like Sephora, KLM, and others he cited as being forward-thinking in their use of messaging as a consumer channel.
The challenge and great opportunity for those advising both brands and SMEs is in helping them understand how to adapt to the messaging revolution.
“How do we [help them] create these seamless, frictionless experiences for people?”