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A few years ago, my mom asked me how to make a Facebook account. I refused to teach her. The next thing I knew, she has downloaded an app called WeChat. Similar to WhatsApp, WeChat is a messaging app based in China; however, it has an additional component: news feed. The feed is called Moments and it works like Facebook’s Wall with updating pictures and statuses from friends’ activities. Today, she has a few hundred contacts and attended multiple reunions from Canada to Australia. She has reconnected with her old schoolmates and joined a social network all thanks to WeChat. WeChat is her Facebook.

WeChat is not the only messaging app to take part in adding a social network component. KakaoTalk, a popular messaging app in Korea, has launched KakaoStory for users to post their activities to share with friends. LINE, another popular messaging app, also has a Timeline feature that is labelled as a “Personal Social Network”. Although the world’s most popular messenger, WhatsApp, does not feature a social network, it is owned by the world’s biggest social network, Facebook. If Facebook were to add a social network in Whatsapp, it would be creating another competitor for itself (in addition to Facebook and Instagram). Therefore, it makes sense why WhatsApp does not have a social network component; however, other messaging apps are trying to capture a larger audience by doing so.

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iPhone screenshot of my newsfeed on Wechat

The messaging and social networking combination is occurring on the other end as well. Social networks are already adding messaging components, and they are pushing to make them more accessible. In “Twitter Just Became A Messaging App”, Molly McHugh reports that Twitter’s Direct Message feature is increasing the character count from 140 to 10,000. Twitter is hoping to drive up traffic with more users talking and having conversations within the app.

Instagram is taking a similar approach. It has now revamped its Instagram Direct feature for users to have conversations more like they would on messaging apps. Before this month, it was not possible to share other users’ posts, start a conversation with text, or respond with a picture (you could send a picture, but it would start a new conversation message). Now Instagram Direct has the feel of a messenger to complement its social network. Instagram not only has this feature, but it has already created a messaging app called Bolt. It is similar to Snapchat where users can send a picture or video to a friend, which disappears when read. Although it is only currently in Singapore, New Zealand, and South Africa, Instagram’s dip into the messaging market shows growth and competition among social networks to strengthen their hold in messengers.

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Image courtesy of Flickr user HypeSocial

Clearly, social networks are implementing messaging components to increase the amount of time we spend on our phones. Messaging apps have the same idea to add social networks within itself to drive up membership and usage. Together, messaging apps and social networks are trying to maximize our mobile minutes.

The strategy is working as the categories “Social” and “Communication” are the top two categories in app usage. With that said, I wonder what the future will look like. Will social media and messaging eventually be synonymous, and that one will not exist without the other? Who will be the leader? Facebook? Will the messaging app market be as fragmented as it is now or will the power of social networks weed out the weaker messaging apps?

Facebook is the world’s biggest social network and owns the world’s two most popular messengers, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. I will not be surprised if Facebook decides to combine the two messengers together and put itself far from the reach of competitors.

I believe in the future, all social networks will have messaging and vice versa. The ability to capture more users with both features is too tempting to ignore.

Feature Image courtesy of Flickr user Tayla Lyell

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