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How Four of the Biggest Mobile Messaging Apps Stack Up

While the leaders each have unique strengths, none of them is a slam dunk for global-minded marketers

July 24, 2017 | Mobile

Mobile messaging apps are, hands down, one of the most challenging marketing environments to master today, but that isn’t stopping businesses from trying. Success is heavily influenced by where a business operates and the app or apps they choose to use.

Preferred Channel for Communicating with a Brand According to US Social Media Users, Aug 2016 (% of respondents)

“WeChat is by far the most advanced mobile messaging app worldwide in terms of its functionality and the services it offers consumers and businesses. Where the app falls short is in its global reach. However, for businesses interested in marketing products and services in China—and increasingly to Chinese people living or traveling abroad—WeChat is the best messaging app to use,” said Cathy Boyle, principal analyst at eMarketer and author of the new report, “Messaging App Marketing and Advertising: Putting WeChat, Facebook Messenger, Line and WhatsApp to Use.”

Subscribers to eMarketer PRO can access the report here. Nonsubscribers can purchase the report here.

WeChat’s strengths lie in its audience size—938 million monthly active users in Q1 2017, according to its parent company, Tencent—and its ability to drive online and offline sales for businesses.

Its weakness is that it is primarily used in China. For businesses looking for a truly global platform, WeChat doesn’t fit the bill.

Facebook Messenger has the global footprint many businesses are looking for—1.2 billion users worldwide in Q1 2017, according to Facebook.

Aside from buying paid advertising, brands can use Messenger functionality in two basic ways: by answering messages manually (with limited automation) or by creating a bot, which is much less common. Of the 65 million Facebook pages, over 20 million use Messenger for messaging of any sort, Facebook says.

However, the app has a long way to go before it will be considered a full-fledged marketing tool.

Then there’s Line, which launched in 2011 in response to the tsunami that devastated Japan and hampered communication via wireless networks. Line has strengths and weaknesses similar to that of WeChat’s. On the positive side, it has a large and engaged audience and the capabilities for businesses to drive mcommerce and in-store sales. Where it falls short for some is that it’s mainly used in just four countries: Japan, Indonesia, Taiwan and Thailand.

Meanwhile, WhatsApp, which is also owned by Facebook, has as many users as Messenger but doesn’t provide any support for businesses using the service for marketing purposes. Some users show interest in engaging with brands on WhatsApp, however, so companies are developing clever ways to use the app, mostly for branding at this point.

In the latest episode of "Behind the Numbers," eMarketer analysts Cathy Boyle and Debra Aho Williamson discuss how businesses around the world are using mobile messaging apps, like Line, WhatsApp, WeChat and Facebook Messenger.

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