Are Chat Apps the Untapped Platforms for Millennial Media Engagement? Here’s One Millennial’s Opinion

Young woman using cell phone to send text message on social network at night. Closeup of hands with computer laptop in background

This is the final post in a four-part series covering how to engage millennials in new media, according to Kait Hobson, a recent grad of Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications and indisputable Millennial. Read part one herepart two here and part three here

Media experts are heralding messaging apps as the hottest new media trend. This means Millennials would interact with brands on apps like WeChat, Viber and Whatsapp. As a Millennial who still reads the print version of the NYT, I recognize that I’m an outlier of the digital generation, joining only 10 percent of Millennial NYT print subscribers, so I asked my friends what they think.

“Are you nuts?” was the consensus.

Generic emails are still delivered en masse–their volume and irrelevancy make the brands that send them even more irrelevant. Snapchat is underdeveloped and also an app, adding another step to access it. The most convenient and direct way I use my phone is SMS; however, I would have to be in love with a brand to let it text me.

It would have to:

  • Know what I like
  • Know what time of the day I want it
  • Know when to stop pushing content
  • Sound like one of my friends, not a robot
  • Go beyond pushing content to allowing me to engage with my friends or other connections about a story

This list of requirements will not align for messaging apps in 2016, and I’m not even sure it will happen in the next five years, but I’ll humor Henry Blodget from Business Insider and other media experts who are betting on messaging as the savior of Millennial media engagement. It’s something to consider.

Millennials check their phones every 10 minutes, so short message alerts from media outlets on chat apps would keep users informed on the platform they use the most to chat with contacts—there’s both the embedded social network and convenience factor. Messaging apps have the audience and the capability to send video, text, GIFs, video chats and audio calls, positioning them as an ideal medium for targeted marketing from the media. But still, all of my friends have iPhones and I think Whatsapp’s interface is inelegant compared to iMessage.

WeChat is the top messaging app in China, with 700 million active monthly users, and the widespread global audience makes it appealing for media companies to invest branding efforts to capture a larger audience abroad. In countries where smartphone users have limited data plans, the platform will allow media to reach a difficult demographic to target, the people who only download messaging apps for communication instead of social networking or mobile apps like Snapchat; however, North America is different—all my Millennial friends have iPhones, therefore its global appeal to American Millennials is irrelevant. Since WeChat and Whatsapp are apps they’re the first thing I delete from my phone when I need to update it, making me less likely to invest time tailoring my networks or future brand subscriptions on these platforms.

There is potential, however, for brands communicating through SMS, to know where you are and what you need.

For example, if I could subscribe to Urban Outfitters and customize what it texted me about then I could speak directly to digital personal shoppers who could suggest items and answer logistical questions for me about the store in my area, regarding sizing or operational hours. It’s intimate to let a brand text you directly but if media can continue to personalize and effectively market its content then it’s the best possibility to give Millennials the content they want in the most direct way possible.

The future of messaging apps as a viable social media platform is dubious, with the thought of it moving some of my friends to laughter and others already feeling annoyed that a brand might message them. I wouldn’t rule messaging apps out but I would say that the focus needs to be on Snapchat as a visual, unclogged platform with impressive potential that hasn’t been realized, or on Facebook which has the install base and the ability to have content tailored based on a massive data set. Snapchat covers the bases I explained in my first blog post: it meets us on the mobile platform we use most frequently. Facebook has the ability to deliver us personalized content and effective, native advertisements. Both are among the only apps with the capacity to make the advertisements appear seamless because of visual delivery.