Ultimate Guide

Ultimate Guide to Instant Messaging for Business 2020

Iaroslav Kudritskiy
March 1, 2019

The idea of instant messaging for business has been brewing for some time. A wave of Facebook chatbots brought that idea into the western world but in China, WeChat had already become a communication method for brands and consumers. WhatsApp has done the same in other markets like India and Latin America. And with so many already using personal messaging accounts for business conversations we have to ask. Why and how can we use instant messaging for business in an efficient and scalable way?

Recently, a wave of live chat companies changed how we interact with business. It's nice to chat with brands on their website, but there is a problem a visitor will leave your website. You can try to reengage over email, but email inboxes are overcrowded. Can messaging apps bridge the gap between live chat and email?

In this article, we'll take you down the funnel of a messaging app user, compare how messaging apps like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat & more stack up and get you started with adopting instant messaging for business. This article is about businesses having external conversations, so if you're looking for a guide to internal messaging apps we have one here. Now buckle up because in this post we're going to cover questions like:

Why Use An Instant Messenger for Business?

Which Instant Messaging Apps Connect Business & Customers?

Top Messaging Apps By Country

Instant Messaging Accounts for Business

How To Benefit From Instant Messaging For Business

Generate Leads Using Instant Messengers For Business

Instant Messaging Chat Greeting & Contact Management

Reengage Contacts With Targeted Mass Messaging

Support Customers Using Instant Messengers for Business

Further Reading

Why Use An Instant Messenger for Business?

The value of using messaging apps like Messenger or WhatsApp to chat with customers is clear compared to email and live chat.

Let's start with email, it's reliable and versatile. You trust that it will be delivered and you can format it to suit a purpose. On the other hand, receiving and reading an email can be cumbersome. You'll have to open it and skim through content until you find the info needed.

Live chat provides a different experience, no large paragraphs, highly specific content in response to your question and no formatting to get in the way. Although live chats are quick and engaging, you never really know who you're talking to, when they will quit the conversation nor why they left.

Messaging apps are the sweet spot in the middle. You're chatting to a registered account, you know you're talking to the same person and they can pick up or drop the conversation at any point just like email. Except the experience is super snappy and engaging just like a live chat. If you're convinced, go ahead to the next section. If not, here is more evidence that instant messaging for business works.

Messaging App Audience Size

We're in a messaging world and with over 3 billion messaging app users in total it's more likely than not that whoever your customers are they are going to be on one messaging app or another. In fact, it's likely that if your customers are very young this may be one of the only places where you'll be able to contact them reliably and directly.

A graph that shows how many users are on each instant messaging for business platform
Users of Messaging Apps 2018 | Source: Statista

Messaging App Engagement Rates

It feels like it's been over a decade now we've been taught the same growth strategies for our companies. Use lead magnets and other sweeteners to collect your website visitors emails and you'll have a large audience that you can engage with nearly free.

This is shows that Facebook Messenger open rates beat email open rates by 613% & Facebook messenger click rates beat email click rates by 805%.
Emails Newsletter vs Facebook Messenger Newsletter Results

Nothing is free, in fact we've been using email marketing for so long that email open rates and email click through rates have sunk to historic lows. This isn't going to change and it's only going to get harder.

Switching to messaging apps gives us a new window to access that same audience and that window is glorious. Sending our newsletter from Facebook Messenger instead of email allows us to increase or open rates by 613%. How would it affect your business to increase your open rates by 600 percent?

Don't Miss Out On Dark Social

Dark social is a term coined in an article published in the Atlantic. What does dark social mean? Simple, not all social sharing is done in a public space like Facebook. In fact, take a second and think about the last time you shared something highly engaging on Facebook.

If you're anything like us, you share the best content directly with a friend or with a group of friends in a WhatsApp group. Think of all the direct traffic you get on Google Anlytics, a portion of those is coming from sharing inside messaging apps. And what better way to get people to share your links in private groups or messages than sending it to them in a private group in the first place.

Hope that is enough to convince you to give instant messaging for business a try.

Which Instant Messaging Apps Connect Business & Customers?

There are probably hundreds of messaging apps out there that none of us have ever heard of, in this article we'll be comparing how the top 7 instant messaging apps perform when businesses are chatting with customers.

Instant Messaging for Business, Instant Messenger for Business, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat, Telegram, Line, Viber, Kik
Instant Messaging Apps for Business

Top Messaging Apps By Country

With any new communication or marketing tool, it's important to understand the audiences accessible through it. When deciding on a messaging app consider geography, demographics, and industry. For a detailed overview of geography, we've compiled a list of the top three messaging apps in each country. It should help you to figure out the best instant messenger for business in your country. But for a quick overview you can review our top messaging apps by country below.

The Top Three Messaging Apps Worldwide

The following messaging apps cover about 3 billion of the world's population. We recommend getting started with one of these.

Most popular messaging apps, most popular messaging app by country, most popular messaging apps in uk, most popular messaging apps in india, most popular messaging apps in every country, most popular messaging app in japan
Most Popular Messaging Apps By Country

Facebook Messenger is popular around the world. It's one of the top 3 most popular of almost every country, China and Iran are significant exceptions. That doesn't mean Facebook Messenger is always ideal to start with in your region. It's best to start with the most popular in your country. However here are the large markets where Facebook Messenger is the most popular: United States, Australia, Canada, Philippines, Thailand, New Zealand & Vietnam. Information about other smaller markets is available here.

WhatsApp is another huge contender, it's the most popular messaging app worldwide. You'll find WhatsApp is the most popular app in most countries across Europe, Latin America and some parts of Africa. Some notable exceptions include Argentina, Czech Republic, Denmark, Greece, Hungary, Norway, Poland, Romania and Sweden where Facebook Messenger is more popular.

WeChat is a messaging app where you should consider region and ethnicity. Not only is WeChat the most popular messaging app in China. Chinese expatriates are also very highly engaged on WeChat even when they are abroad. If you are trying to connect with Chinese consumers, WeChat is going to be your best bet and your only bet because most other messaging apps are blocked in China.

The Niche Contenders

Although we highly recommend the 3 most popular described above, there are definitely unique companies out there that should consider the niche messaging apps described below.

Telegram is another interesting case where it's about more than just region. Telegram is the most popular messaging app in Iran and Uzbekistan, two counties where the flow of information is tightly controlled by the government. In fact, telegram has a history of being used as a tool to subvert the authorities. Telegram has also become the defacto messaging app in the cryptocurrency industry.

Line is an app that got its start in Japan and also dominates Taiwan. Line is also very popular in Thailand and Indonesia. In fact, the Line itself has declared these markets to be their focus markets going forward.

Viber is a messaging app you should be interested in if your audience is in Eastern Europe. The app got its start as a Skype clone but is rapidly gaining traction in that region.

Kik is a special case. Although it isn't the top messaging app in any country it is very popular among the youngest generation in the United States. If your brand is looking to create awareness among the next generation, this one should interest you.

Instant Messaging Accounts for Business

You've gotten this far, you're interested in using instant messaging for business, and you probably have an idea of which messaging app will work for you. The next step is creating the account.

These are the different types of messaging app business accounts that can be created
Instant Messaging Business Accounts

Creating a business account for Facebook Messenger, Telegram, Viber or Kik is as easy as filling out a form. However, Facebook requires additional information about usage if you'd like contact data to be sent to another app via API or the rights to broadcast to your audience.

Creating business accounts for WhatsApp and Line is when things get more complicated. Both have two tiers of business accounts, one for smaller companies and one for large brands. For smaller companies, WhatsApp has the WhatsApp Business App. Getting started with WhatsApp Business App requires an Android phone, sorry there is no iOS app, and a sim card as the account is tied to a phone number. The WhatsApp Business API is currently in an early access phase, it's accepting large brands and requires approval.

Line has Line@ for smaller companies. Getting started with Line@ is as simple as filling out a form. For large brand Line has the Line Official Account, which is more like a managed service from Line that a self-service account.

Getting a WeChat for Business is the most challenging. All the account types (WeChat Official Account, Subscription Account, and WeChat Service Account) need approval and you'll need to submit business registration documents as well as personal ids of the individuals who will be responsible for the account. It took us about four weeks to have our account approved.

How To Benefit From Instant Messaging For Business

You've got an account, time to use it. What are the practical steps necessary to benefit from allowing customers to chat with your business over messaging apps? First, it's important to understand the messaging app funnel so you can better integrate messaging apps with the other funnels in your business.

The messaging app funnel is simple:

  1. Acquire Contacts
  2. Onboard & Segment Contacts
  3. Reengage Contacts With Targeted Mass Messages

This may sound familiar, but if it doesn't, we find it useful to think about it like email marketing. First, you collect the emails. Then you segment your contacts and send content that is relevant and reengaging.

Generate Leads Using Instant Messengers for Business

Call it whatever you like lead generation, user acquisition, discovery. Before you can try any activity with your contacts like sales or marketing, you'll need to get contacts first. Why? Because unlike email marketing where you can scrape an email and use it, when using messaging app business accounts you'll need to convince the person to send you a message first.

This table explains the requirements to open a conversation between a messaging app user account and a messaging app business account.
Requirements to Start a Chat Between a User and a Business Account

This may sound annoying, but we do agree that an explicit opt-in is needed when allowing a company the privilege to send messages directly to your messaging app accounts. There is a silver lining though. You'll notice that most messaging app user accounts require a phone number. Meaning you'll get access to the actual person rather than a dummy email account they made.

So how do you get people to message you first? In general, there are three methods: search, links & advertising.

Instant Messaging Lead Generation Using Search

Search is where you'll likely get the least traffic if you're a small business, but if you're a big brand, it's important to understand how it works. For messaging apps in general users can find you by either searching for your business account name or by searching a topic and seeing one of your posts.

Not all messaging apps let you search for business accounts easily. This table explains which apps allow you to search for a business account easily.
Can Users Find Your Business Account Using In App Search?

The utility of search is highest with Facebook Messenger and WeChat for Business because they both allow users to search business posts and user posts. You'll be able to increase your search traffic by publishing content that may interest your customers.

Telegram allows users to search bot names directly, but unfortunately doesn't allow users to search through public groups.

Line, Viber, and Kik only allow searching for approved accounts which are rather tricky to get. They also either don't have posts, or you cannot search through them.

WhatsApp has the lowest utility because you cannot search through business accounts. Users on WhatsApp will need to find their favorite businesses another way.

Instant Messaging Lead Generation Using Links & Scan Codes

Direct links and scannable codes convert existing traffic into instant messaging contacts. Links work well for website traffic. They can be used as a way to contact customer service, ask for and receive a lead magnet, even a way for people to subscribe to your newsletter. They're easy to use, try it yourself by contacting us through Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Telegram or Line.

Scannable codes work like QR codes. Once a person recognizes the code, they'll open the relevant messaging app, and scan the code. The most popularly known example is Facebook Messenger Scan Code. For countries like China where QR codes are popular this is a no brainer. In Japan, companies reward customers for scanning by offering to send coupons to those who do. Scannable codes are a great way to convert offline traffic like that in a store to an instant messaging contact for your business. Start trying with your Messenger Code and you will see how it works.

A table that describes Direct Linking Capabilities Across Instant Messaging Business Accounts
Direct Linking Capabilities Across Instant Messaging Business Accounts

If you create a plethora of links all over your website and blog posts you're going to want to know where that traffic is coming from, which links are actually working for you. To track this Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp offer references. They work kind of like UTM Tracking, place a reference at the end of you're link and you'll be able to see which link they actually click on and if you connect a chat automation platform, you'll be able to respond instantly with a fit for purpose response as well.

Instant Messaging Lead Generation Using Advertising

The most exciting, but least known advantage of instant messaging lead generation. Imagine a typical lead generation campaign on Facebook. Publish an ad, users click to a landing page and are asked to fill out a contact form. Every time it's filled in, you generate a lead.

How many more leads could you get if you could skip the landing page? Using Facebooks Send to Messenger ads it's possible. Rather than clicking to a landing page, users are sent directly to a Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp chat. Using chat automation, ask the same questions as a contact for, and you have a lead.

In our experience, we've seen landing page bounce rates anywhere from 20% to 80%. By eliminating the landing page, you'll see a 1.25x to a 5x increase in leads for the same price.

If you're in a highly competitive lead generation space such as Real Estate, Car Dealerships, Fitness or Education, this is an advantage you can't pass up.

But now that you've got all these leads being generated, how are you going to handle them all?

Instant Messaging Chat Greeting & Contact Management

You've adopted instant messaging for business, and leads are blowing up your messaging app business account. How do you deal will the volume? Do you need to hire more people? How do you keep things organized?

There is one crucial success factor when connecting with customers over messaging apps, response time. We've had thousands of conversations with customers and even more with people curious about our product. I can't tell you how many times, even when a customer is just reporting a bug, the conversation has ended with thanks for the quick response. Sometimes they even send a smiley 😅.

Responding quickly is a no brainer right? Let me let you in on a secret. It's hard. A consistently high response rate requires responding automatically when a contact first reaches out to you. Then to assist further conversation you'll need your contacts organized. Luckily various instant messengers for business have built-in tools to help.

Meet Response Time Expectations With Greeting & Away Messages

Setting the correct expectations and meeting them is the priority when using instant messaging for business. After all, allowing users to contact your company via messaging app isn't going to do you any favors if the first interaction results in disappointment.

Ideally, you'd be able to start the conversation with a targeted message based on the path the user took to contact you. However, this won't be possible using just the tools provided by instant messenger business accounts, but you will be able to respond automatically on the first message and set response time expectations for later.

Comparison of Greeting & Away Messages Across Instant Messaging Business Accounts
Comparison of Greeting & Away Messages Across Instant Messaging Business Accounts

Ideally, response expectations should be set individually if you don't operate 24/7. Meaning your greeting messaging could say something like, hello how can we help you today? While your away message gives your regular hours of operation.

The business account settings for Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp & Line have this capability built-in. For all the other messaging apps you'll need to connect a 3rd party tool via API like Rocketbots.

Interestingly, the Line business account platform takes things a step further by allowing a greeting message to be a survey. Adding a survey to the greeting message is something we highly recommend because it eases the work of sales and support teams by clarifying a contact’s intentions and enriching contact profiles based on their answer.

Collect Data, Enrich Profiles & Build Segments

As with your email CRM, it's important to enrich the profiles of contacts to analyze the successes and failures among different groups later. You'll also want this data to send mass messages that are more personalized and less spammy in the future.

Ideally, much of this would happen automatically. At Rocketbots we use an onboarding survey to add tags and custom fields values to a person's profile based on the answers responses. Unfortunately, you won't be able to do so automatically by using the instant messaging business account platforms we're discussing. However, some do allow you to do so manually.

CRM Capabilities Across Instant Messaging Business Accounts
CRM Capabilities Across Instant Messaging Business Accounts

As we've seen in previous items of comparison some business account management platforms are more powerful than others. Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and WeChat for Business have a way to manage contacts in a CRM like way, with the ability to add tags and sometimes notes. However, even on these platforms, the functionality is relatively bare bones.

Other messaging apps offer little to no CRM capability. Meaning their out of the box functions may be enough to help you answer a question or two, but they're not meant to help you build relationships.

Reengage Contacts With Targeted Mass Messaging

Now that you're a master of instant messaging lead generation techniques, you have thousands of contacts to reactivate. Again, it's useful to make a comparison with email marketing. You don't want to send too many emails to any one person because they may begin to dislike your company or even block you. The same is true with instant messaging broadcasts.

Not all messaging app business account managers have the ability to send targeted broadcasts, but some do.

Broadcast Across Instant Messaging Business Accounts
Broadcast Capabilities Across Instant Messaging Business Accounts

Of the tools we've evaluated, WhatsApp and WeChat have the most powerful broadcasting functionality. Both allow you to send broadcasts based on the tags you have added to contacts. Be aware that WeChat for Business only allows a few broadcasts each month. The Line@ manager allows broadcasts but they cannot be targeted.

To create broadcasts in Facebook Messenger, Viber or Kik you'll need to connect a tool like Rocketbots via their API. Facebook has been testing a tool for this for over a year now, but it doesn't seem to be any closer to release.

Telegram is an interesting case. You cannot send mass messages to contacts directly, but you can create a channel that your contacts can subscribe to where you can send broadcasts.

Support Customers Using Instant Messengers for Business

As we discussed previously, messaging apps are the sweet spot between email & live chat. That makes instant messaging a useful tool for customer support. In fact, enabling companies to provide support over messaging apps is the reason we started Rocketbots.

When offering customer support through messaging apps, there is one crucial detail you'll need to remember. All the conversations you have with an individual are contained in the same thread. Now, this can be a blessing and a curse. Ever had different tools for email marketing and customer support only to struggle to get a full 360 view of communications between you and your customer? You'll never have that problem with messaging apps.

However, that does mean you have to be careful when it comes to different departments working together. Imagine you're diligently helping a customer solve a technical issue, and someone decides to send a broadcast message about your latest products. Those are the kind of specific instant messaging specific problems that we created Rocketbots to avoid.

Back to the question at hand, can you use instant messenger business accounts for customer support? Yes, but it's difficult with the tools provided by messaging app companies. If you're familiar with Live Chat tools, you'll expect a nice messaging interface, snippets to reuse answers, assignment to work in teams, tickets for productivity & some platforms even have keyword, or AI replies.

Productivity Capabilities Across Instant Messaging Business Accounts
Productivity Capabilities Across Instant Messaging Business Accounts

When you consider all those tools, Facebook Page Inbox, the interface for Facebook pages messaging is the only interface that really comes close.

Further Reading

You did it! You finished the guide. If you're interested in further reading we recommend you figure out the messaging app business account you'd like to use and continue with one of those guides:

Iaroslav Kudritskiy
Chief Operating Officer
Iaroslav Kudritskiy is the Chief Operating Officer and co-founder of respond.io. He is a graduate of the MBA program at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and his previous roles include positions at Kodak Alaris, Xaxis and Light Reaction.
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