3 reasons why WhatsApp leads in social media

It is said that one of every five people on a WhatsApp group is a joker, but the more I use the platform the more I’m convinced that it’s the other way around, and that there are four jokers in every five. Irrespective of my personal sentiments towards the group chat app, its widespread popularity puts it at the top of the list of social media used in the country ahead of Facebook and the rest.

WhatsApp is highly coveted by advertisers who are bent on getting into those chat groups that are spreading like Ebola — every time you turn around you’ve been added to another WhatsApp group against your will. It is greatly prized among marketers for its stickiness because people are bound by some kind of devilish oath not to dare leave a group or risk being disowned by family, ostracised by friends or left out in the wilderness to be mauled by blood thirsty beasts.

It is literally a captive audience but penetrating the social network is proving to be an unscalable mountain. Perhaps we should divert our attention away from trying to get brand messages into it and spend more time understanding the reasons behind its success and then feed that insight into campaign planning.

Firstly it is personal and it uses the basic principle that your phone book is filled with people that you know both intimately and casually. You don’t ordinarily add people into your phone book just because they have a sexy profile photo, but instead you add them into it when they are part of your inner circle or if you’ve actually met them and have found common ground.

Secondly people gravitate to others who speak the same language, have similar points of view and shared values. When they are in this type of homogenous network they are compelled to express themselves freely and create a vibrant community where the majority are actively participating. In heterogeneous groups however, the sub-group that is dominant at the beginning tends to alienate the others who are then relegated to passive participation.

Thirdly it is so easy to use that even your grandmother will send you a Google Maps location pin to ‘ushago’ (upcountry home) when you haven’t visited in a while, just in case you forgot the way there. It is intuitive and the use of stored content is encouraging to those with intermittent connections to the internet whether through mobile data or wifi, and even when the photos and videos have filled up their phone memory, they can continue to show them to those in their immediate vicinity.

The holy grail for marketing executives is to recruit and work with influencers within this burgeoning platform to promote their brands. The Whopper Sacrifice campaign on Facebook in 2009 proved that incentives are necessary to get people to participate in social media activity to generate views and drive engagement.

Burger King offered a free Whopper to anyone who deleted or sacrificed ten friends on Facebook and within the first ten days over 200,000 friends had been sacrificed. Facebook stepped in and limited the activity of the campaign because it challenged the very concept of the social network. This illustrated that an outlandish creative idea and the right kind of incentives can get the attention of those elusive influencers.


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