Messaging is an intimate medium for sharing private views and sentiments. It is a cocktail-party whisper in digital form, as one user of WhatsApp, a service owned by Facebook, put it. Now some of the world’s biggest brands are venturing into this personal realm. Aware of the limitations of conventional communication channels like call centres and email, a few years ago firms started using WhatsApp and its sister app, Facebook’s Messenger, as well as Apple’s iMessage and independent apps such as Line.
The pandemic gave all such apps a fillip. Messaging on Instagram, Facebook’s photo-sharing app, and on Messenger rose by 40%. Four-fifths of mobile-device time is now spent on chat apps. Companies can usually be relied upon to go where customers are, so messaging has become vital for business, not just experimental, says Javier Mata, founder of Yalo, a startup whose technology connects firms to messaging platforms. Firms once used them chiefly for customer service. Now they want to get people to buy stuff via chat, as hundreds of millions of Chinese do on WeChat, owned by Tencent, China’s mightiest tech giant.