Marketing on Social Messaging Apps – Done Ethically

Mitchel White
April 22, 2021

Marketing on social messaging apps was a big adjustment for me.

My reservations weren’t due to a lack of understanding – l was comfortable with the mechanics of it.

Messenger, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Skype – these are for friends and family, not fads and fashions. To me, there was something that felt dishonest about tapping into people’s private spaces, where they typically have conversations with friends and loved ones, only to promote a business. No one opens up their messages with the intention to see an advert disguised as a brand DM.

But there’s no denying, Social Messaging has become a bit of a phenomenon. It’s the go-to way of contacting your consumers. Is there a way to utilise this potentially intrusive marketing tactic in an ethical way?

The Growth of Social Messaging Marketing

Social messaging has slaughtered its marketing predecessor.

A 2016 Email Marketing Metrics Benchmark Study by IBM showed that the average open rate for emails was 21.8%.

Although email messaging is still an important marketing tool – it’s fair to say that consumers have become savvy – if not cynical – towards the obvious and spammy attempts to push products into their email inboxes.

In the same year, various reports showed that SMS open and response rates are as high as 98% and 45% respectively. They also argue that the severe difference in open rates can be put down to the sheer amount of messages received via email instead of SMS. This trend is only growing, with Facebook continuing to publish reports on the success of social messaging and how it produces higher open rates, response rates, engagement, and customer satisfaction. Today, messaging apps have over 5 billion active users every month. What’s more is that the top four messaging apps have a larger user base than the top four social networks.

But why is this the case?

It’s been a while since we could only send a limited number of text messages per month or had to buy credit to top-up our phones (I’m about to turn 30 and this makes me feel very old). Now, apps are the most popular way to connect with friends, family, and coworkers – naturally, this has been even more the case following the pandemic. Many apps are free to use, letting users make voice calls, video calls, and send chats to others at no cost.

They’ve become an easy and cost-effective way for people to communicate, especially given the physical restrictions that are still in place.

A Space for Informal Chats

Given the way that social messaging started – as a convenient way to have informal conversations (emails have always been more formal – you don’t get bills and meter reading reminders via WhatsApp), it’s fair to say that people have a more trusting attitude towards the messages they receive on apps.

Or, at the very least, they’re curious once they receive an unexpected message on an app they tend to associate with personal DMs. “Who’s this? How’d they get my number?” they might ask.

It follows that businesses take advantage of this natural curiosity and use apps as a way to connect with their audiences. Since millions of people use them, it’s an easy way for companies to reach valuable leads.

Understanding Audiences

The best way (in terms of ethics and results) to rationalise marketing on social messaging apps is by understanding your audience and delivering messaging that sits alongside their comfort levels.

For example, Facebook’s Businesses on Messenger allows businesses to market to customers through its popular messaging app. Customers can opt to receive information about their orders through Messenger. But if they don’t, the business shouldn’t think it has licence to freely pester the customer with messages from there on out.

You need to get to know your audience if you want to predict the sort of social messaging marketing that a user would be comfortable with. It’s important that you understand who they are, where they are located, what their interests and hobbie are, their challenges, their age range – all the key info that makes up a buyer persona. For example, if your target audience is Gen Z, and you choose to use Facebook Messenger, you’re missing the mark, hun.

It’s also important to use market research to determine the sort of messaging that’s appropriate. For example, BuzzFeed uses chatbots on WeChat to send subscribers personalised content whenever they enter specific keywords. Using demographic data and keyword research, they’re able to promote content that aligns with their audience’s interests – reducing the risk of spamming the service.

Given the group chat limit of 256 participants, WhatsApp is best for businesses that are marketing with a smaller, more personalised campaign. For example, Adidas famously uses the app for its ‘dark social’ campaigns, where it creates a sense of community amongst its members – each receiving exclusive access to news, events and brand ambassadors.

And as social messaging apps allow businesses to send personalised messages to their audience, they’d be missing a trick if they don’t follow through by using the informal, conversational tone that belongs to those apps.

If there’s a key takeaway to be had – make sure that marketing on social messaging apps reflects the interests of the audience, and is delivered in a way that feels relaxed and informal. This way, you’re navigating the very fine line between inviting and invasive without crossing it.

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