By Pamela Clark-Dickson
Facebook’s decision to remove the messaging capability from its smartphone apps in certain European markets, and to encourage Facebook users in these markets to download and use the standalone Facebook Messenger app, seems explicitly designed to increase the penetration of Facebook Messenger in these European countries. But it is also possible that, with this move, Facebook may antagonize a proportion of its mobile users who may not wish to download two apps to access their Facebook services. What Facebook is doing, in a sense, is ‘forcing’ its mobile users to change their behaviour, in which case it will need to provide users with a good incentive to do so.
WhatsApp reportedly has a higher penetration than Facebook Messenger on mobile in Europe, so it is possible that this is a reactionary move from Facebook. It is significant that Facebook has taken this step in Europe first, and not the US, where Facebook Messenger reportedly has higher penetration than WhatsApp.
However, having acquired WhatsApp in February for US$19 billion in cash and shares, it’s unlikely that Facebook will want to risk devaluing its investment in its new subsidiary. The US Federal Trade Commission approved the acquisition yesterday, albeit with a caveat stating that WhatsApp must adhere to its existing privacy practices.
It is possible that Facebook’s reasoning for the removal of the messaging capability from its smartphone apps can be taken at face value: that the company wishes to provide its mobile users with a superior mobile messaging experience, and that it believes this superior experience can best be achieved by providing a standalone, dedicated messaging app. This standalone, dedicated messaging app may indeed suit those mobile users who would use it to more quickly and directly access their Facebook messages. The company also reportedly stated that it is continuously adding new features to Facebook Messenger, most recently enabling iOS users to create group chats and to ‘pin’ groups for easier access.
Regardless, it is likely that the penetration of Facebook Messenger will increase, since most Facebook users will want to continue interacting with the Facebook messaging service on their mobile devices.
Given that Facebook now owns WhatsApp and Instagram, as well as its own Facebook Messenger, the company is now playing a significant role in the mobile messaging market. In terms of subscriber numbers, Facebook owns the world’s biggest pure-play mobile messaging application in WhatsApp, and the world’s biggest picture messaging app in Instagram. By requiring mobile users to download and use Facebook Messenger, as opposed to using messaging on their Facebook mobile app, the company is also likely to increase the penetration of its own mobile messaging app.
While WhatsApp and Instagram could be regarded as pure-play providers of OTT communications services, it seems that Facebook is increasingly positioning Facebook Messenger as a content platform as well as a communications services platform. Competitors in this market segment include the Asian companies Line, Kakao, and Tencent (WeChat), and North American firms Tango and Kik.
Underpinning this positioning is the fact that Facebook is already offering free stickers, and has recently added VoIP for iOS and Android. The addition of these services could be regarded as Facebook’s first steps towards the provision of revenue-generating services on Facebook Messenger, and they also represent potential diversification away from advertising as the social network’s primary source of revenues.
Also, it is possible that Facebook could parlay the popularity of games on its desktop platform, into mobile via Facebook Messenger; after all, in-game purchases have proved to be a key source of revenues for Line and Kakao.
About the author
Pamela Clark-Dickson is senior analyst for messaging at Informa Telecoms & Media.