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How Facebook's Messenger Became a Popular Mobile Messaging Service

Many people around the world use Messenger daily

July 7, 2016

Facebook Messenger will have 105.2 million active users in the US this year. Four out of 10 mobile phone users will use it, making Messenger the leading over-the-top (OTT) mobile messaging app, as explored in a new eMarketer report, “Facebook Messenger: Strategies for Customer Service, Ecommerce, Content and Advertising” (eMarketer PRO customers only).

Facebook Messenger Key Developments Timeline, Aug 2011-April 2016

What was once just a feature within Facebook is now one of the world’s most popular mobile messaging services.

Facebook introduced the standalone app in 2011, but it didn’t take off until 2014, when Facebook removed private messaging from the main Facebook app. Mobile users had to either download the Messenger app or use Facebook’s mobile site for messaging. (Desktop users can still send and receive messages from the Facebook website.)

The move to split off messaging caused confusion and a fair amount of user outrage, but many ended up downloading the app. The number of people using the Messenger app grew from 500 million per month in November 2014 to 900 million per month in April 2016.

Top 10 Messaging Apps Used by Internet Users Worldwide, Q3 2015 (% of respondents)

In June 2016, Facebook began informing users it would soon strip messaging out of its mobile site. That will make the app the only way to send mobile messages on Facebook.

“Right now, we have two of the top messaging apps in the world; 900 million people use Messenger every month, and 1 billion people use WhatsApp every month,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said during the company’s Q1 2016 earnings conference call.

There are several factors driving Messenger’s worldwide growth, as well as mobile messaging in general. eMarketer forecasts that 35.0% of mobile phone users worldwide will use mobile messaging apps this year, up from 25.2% in 2014. Nearly half (49.3%) of mobile users in North America and 43.4% of those in Western Europe will use messaging apps this year.

In a February 2016 study of worldwide internet users ages 16 to 64 by GlobalWebIndex, Messenger was more likely to be used than WhatsApp. As of Q3 2015, Messenger was used monthly by 37% of respondents, compared with 33% who used WhatsApp. Both services were far ahead of the other messaging apps GlobalWebIndex studied, including Line, Snapchat and WeChat.

Facebook Messenger App* Usage and Daily Time Spent in Select Countries, April 2016

In many countries, including the US, Canada, the UK and Australia, Messenger was used by upward of 25% of the population in Q4 2015, according to We Are Social. It was especially popular in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where 42% of the population used it during that quarter. But it also showed strength in developing markets such as Brazil, Argentina and Vietnam.

One key question about Messenger has been how often people actually use it. Because users were essentially forced into downloading it when Facebook split it off, there has been an undercurrent of skepticism about whether people use it because they want to or just because they have to.

Data from SimilarWeb shows that many people around the world use Messenger daily. In the Philippines, an average of 58.9% of Android users who had the app installed used it daily in April 2016. Those users spent an average of 17 minutes, 22 seconds per day with the app.

Usage in most other countries wasn’t quite that high, but it was still substantial. In Australia, 36.7% of those who had Messenger installed used it daily, for nearly 10 minutes per day. Data for the US and UK was similar, with about 30% using it daily for about 10 to 11 minutes per day.

eMarketer PRO customers can view the full report here.

Get more on this topic with the full eMarketer report, “Facebook Messenger: Strategies for Customer Service, Ecommerce, Content and Advertising.”

eMarketer releases over 200 analyst reports per year, which are only available to eMarketer PRO customers.


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