The Future of Mobile Engagement Is All About Social

Mobile social apps may sounds like the Holy Grail, but all of this is not worth much if not for data and personalized experiences.

Remember the days we used to chat or flirt with someone on MIRC? ICQ? AOL? With all of the different chat apps on the market these days, it feels like 1996 all over again. People now spend over 80 percent of their mobile time on apps, and a big piece of it is social apps.

Some would say that 2015 was the year of mobile messaging and dating. However, I predict that we are only witnessing the first steps of the new social revolution. In 2016 and beyond, we are going see an eruption of the messaging industry as we have never seen before. Sayings like: “Yeah, we met on Bumble” or “I only use Tinder when I travel” will become even more common. We are going to see even more and more messaging, dating and social apps.

We already know that a lot of big companies investing a lot of money on acquisitions and investments in this mobile social sphere. Apps from WhatsApp to Tango alongside Grindr and Tinder are getting big bucks for their businesses.

And, it’s clear that this trend is global.

At the moment, the one who is leading the pack with over 500 million monthly active users, almost all in China, is WeChat. WeChat takes it to next level by offering over different 20 non-core services within the messaging app itself—from ordering a cab, sending money, playing a game with a friend or booking a restaurant. In order to catch up to WeChat, apps like Line in Japan and Kik in the US are aiming to add new features but that will take a long time and many resources to close those deals and integrate them in the native experience.

Facebook, another major leader in the industry, is taking a different angle than WeChat by opening their platforms for developers to develop on top of their API and allowing publishers to distribute their content in a way that is independent from Facebook’s core ad business. In addition, Facebook’s Messenger platform is now separated from the social network and spun off into a separate app. To emphasize the importance of messaging, Mark Zuckerberg weighed in at a public Q&A in November 2014 saying, “Messaging is one of the few things that people do more than social networking.”

Even enterprise messaging platform Slack is diversifying its chat business buy building out a “Bots” API (apps within apps) for app developers to build on its collaborative platform.

And what about Google? According to The Wall Street Journal, Google is working on a chat platform, though it is still not certain whether it is going to be part of Google Hangouts or a standalone chat.

In some countries, social messaging apps are literally changing the game, some in a way that was not imagined before. For example, in Brazil a judge decided to close WhatsApp for 48 hours. Overnight, 5 million users joined WhatsApp competitor Telegram in Brazil in order to keep chatting.

In an era that most companies are trying to solve the issue of user retention, growth and monetization, social apps are finding new ways to engage their users and expand on their core offerings in ways that actually enhance the user experience. One of the main advantages that social apps have is the vast amounts of specific, personal data they receive from their users.

This makes it easier for social apps to integrate more and more services because they know what their users want. This encourages users to stay in the app and complete actions from other apps like Uber, YouTube, or Spotify without ever needing to leave the original app. This creates higher engagement and retains the users in a much more effective way. This is also a potential native, non-ad monetization source for publishers.

Mobile social apps may sounds like the Holy Grail, but all of this is not worth much if not for data and personalized experiences. Data is the key to understanding your users and allows publishers to provide a native, flawless experience that encourages users spend more time and money within your app. But, simply having the data is not enough; knowing what to do with it is the key to beating your competition.

Yinon Horwitz is the director of business development at StartApp, a mobile marketing platform.