WhatsApp and the Offline Social Opportunity
As marketers, we love speculating about the future of the internet.
Social, in particular, is changing at an aggressive pace, and Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp only raises the question of what could be happening behind the closed doors of one of the most popular social networks in the world.
With a monstrous price tag of $19 billion, it is far and away the most that has ever been paid for a venture capital backed startup. That price tag alone gives a valuation that is greater than that of large enterprises, such as Southwest Airlines, Chipotle, and Best Buy. Only months prior, Facebook cut off Vine and Voxer from its API, no longer allowing them to access Facebook’s sacred social graphs.
It is safe to assume that an acquisition of this magnitude is part of an overarching, long-term strategy, and not a flippant move by Facebook.
To this very question, we will begin to explore the future of the social landscape, and how Facebook can evolve, break through the clutter, and bring back meaning to real social relationships. Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp is returning to its roots by trying to help people connect to real life friends. After all, that is what WhatsApp is particularly good at doing.
If this is in fact a strategic direction for Facebook, the social network will be well positioned to take advantage of offline social media opportunities that are largely, as of this writing, currently untapped.
Facebook moves back to bringing real relationships together
From its inception, Facebook’s purpose was to connect people to other people they knew in their offline or real life. As friend counts swelled, the centerpiece became about the quantity of friends and followers. With maturity, today the pendulum is once again swinging back to real social relationships.
Through the WhatsApp acquisition, Facebook obtains the means to integrate intimate personal data through our interactions with other real people. This data will continue to enhance the social graph Facebook is able to deliver.
Facebook already knows where we like to go, what profiles we check most often, and what publishers we interact with, but now it can deliver a message that has been socially proofed by our own personal communities. Instead of displaying or recommending a restaurant some of my friends went to, Facebook will deliver messages from my most trusted relationships that have the strongest influence to generate a conversion.
The scalability of technology will enable highly targeted messaging tailored to individuals that are most likely to elicit a response. This will strengthen Facebook’s platform, prioritize social profiles and deliver more impact. Facebook will now have a data pile everyone will want a piece of.
Investment in mobile is key to capitalize on offline social
While the social aspects are certainly of the highest of importance to Facebook, let’s not forget that this acquisition also keeps one eye on the mobile industry. Mobile has been growing at an exponential pace, and is projected to have more searches by 2015 than desktop searches.
With the younger generation dwindling on Facebook, WhatsApp will minimize these threats, diversify Facebook’s assets, and possibly even increase engagement across all sectors as both Facebook and WhatsApp benefit from shared resources. History with Instagram has shown that scaling under the influence of Facebook generates huge positive margins.
The Future: Online and offline social will become integrated
With all this in mind, we can begin to think about the “second generation” of social, and how Facebook can, and will, adapt. This is an area of much conjecture, but allows us to visualize what the social future could really look like. Our social behavior goes far and beyond the framework of a screen. Successful businesses will begin to capitalize on the offline social landscape.
What do we mean by that? AirBNB is now in the early stages of development to create some social functionality that will allow renters to rent from people you know. They know that people will be more likely to rent from people with whom they have some type of personal connection. Another example is how Nordstrom has begun placing physical Pinterest Pins on products (in prime placement) in a department store to show off the popularity.
Lululemon, despite some social missteps, has integrated a user generated social component to its product level pages that allows users to post pictures to Instagram with a branded hashtag and to discuss the product in a candid manner.
All three of these companies have allowed social to influence their brands in new meaningful ways. By creating real social connections seamlessly integrated within their platforms, brands like these will begin converting at much higher rates. They will be considered more informed, valued, and trustworthy, making it that much easier for consumers to make a purchase, or continue down a conversation funnel. Social will no longer be a black hole of unlearned loss, but rather a bountiful, secure ROI even in the offline world, and Facebook is holding tight to the trump card.
Facebook’s goal is to form a data monopoly on our most cherished social interactions and possess unrivaled access over the market. Enhancing product level pages, influencing our daily decisions in a modified graph search, and serving targeted and welcomed ads are just the beginning. As we begin to think about this foreseeable future, we can begin to think of how brands can begin embracing social in a manner that will fall in line with the natural progression of things.
- Prioritize your social networks. Invest time and energy into meaningful platforms. Don’t spread yourself too thin. Facebook has what we believe to be an exciting new future, so make sure to keep it high on your short list.
- No more faking it. Instead, build real long lasting relationships. Gone are the days of “buying” or haphazardly accruing fans or likes. As social media continues to evolve, fabricated social interactions will just take away from your bottom line, literally.
- Think beyond basic community management. Brands will get the most benefit from social integration within their own brand offerings.
- Be progressive and forward thinking. Take a risk with a new social integration campaign. A collaborative economy is on the rise, so make sure to get involved early to get the most benefit. Now may seem early, but this is future proofing as this is where successful marketing will be going.
- Build truly exceptional products and experiences people will recommend to their friends. Word of mouth travels extremely fast these days with the power of social networks. A mediocre product won’t cut it. You have to be truly exceptional to be worthy of a Facebook share. On Facebook you are competing for attention against intimate moments in people’s lives – from engagement announcements to vacation photos – so standing out in this environment requires something exceptional.
A special thanks to Mike Roberts, our resident senior earned media strategist at Covario, for the collaborative research and exploration on this very contentious topic.