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Author:Holtz, Shel
Position:Tech talk

Mobile messaging apps are gaining momentum. Is your business ready to connect with customers who are using this new class of tools?

The rise of smartphones could bring with it a shift from online social networks to a new generation of mobile messaging apps. Among youth in Asia and Europe, that transition is already well underway. If it becomes a global phenomenon, it could spell trouble for brands accustomed to engaging with customers through Facebook, Twitter and other platforms.

This new class of messaging tools is known as Over the Top (OTT), because they operate over a wireless broadband Internet connection, not a wireless network. Users download the app and install it, and are able to engage in messaging and other activities without paying a cent to their mobile provider.

With Facebook, Google+ and other networks that brands are accustomed to, it's easy to establish a brand page and then take whatever steps work to get people to like or follow the page. Mobile messaging apps offer no equivalent to the brand page, and most haven't offered advertising.

As messaging apps start chipping away at social networks' user base, how will businesses maintain existing relationships or build new ones with people who have made the switch? It's time for the communication industry to get up to speed.

How serious is the challenge from mobile apps?

LINE, a mobile messaging app from Japan, surpassed 200 million subscribers recently thanks to costly advertising campaigns in Japan, Spain and India. That puts it on track to catch up to WeChat, owned by Chinese company Tencent, which crossed the 300 million mark in January. In comparison, Twitter--the third-largest social network--has about 297 million active users.

Mobile app users send a lot of messages. One study found that OTT users sent 32.6 messages per day, while person-to-person (P2P) SMS users sent only about five. These apps look and act more like social networks than mobile text messaging services, accounting for the increased use.

Why the change?

A number of forces are combining to drive the adoption of mobile messaging apps. According to a May report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 94 percent of teen social media users have a Facebook profile, and 84 percent of them use Facebook often. However, focus groups with teens paint a different picture. The majority of participants "associated (Facebook) with constraints through an increasing adult presence, high-pressure or otherwise...

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