Meta’s leaning into the rising use of Messenger to conduct audio and video calls, with a new, dedicated ‘Calls’ tab added to the lower function bar in the app.
As you can see here, now, in addition to the ‘Chats’, ‘People’ and ‘Stories’ tabs, you’ll also have a new ‘Calls’ section, where you can connect with friends via Messenger’s calling options.
Messenger says that audio and video calling has grown at a rapid rate, with over 40% more daily callers in the app now compared to early 2020, while globally, more than 300 million audio and video calls are conducted on Messenger every day.
As such, it makes sense to put more focus on this as an option, in order to facilitate more direct engagement, while it also expands on Messenger’s usage without forcing in new elements like Games, shopping, etc.
Which Meta has done in the past. In 2016, Meta made a big push on Messenger bots, before launching a separate tab for Messenger games, among other functionalities, in an effort to build Messenger into a broader use tool.
As you can see here, are one stage, that lower function bar was getting pretty crowded.
Meta acknowledged this in 2018, when then Messenger chief David Marcus vowed to get back to the app’s roots.
“Over the last two years, we built a lot of capabilities to find the features that continue to set us apart. A lot of them have found their product market fit; some haven’t. While we raced to build these new features, the app became too cluttered. Expect to see us invest in massively simplifying and streamlining Messenger this year.”
That eventually lead to the Messenger layout we have now, with simplified tab exploration and streamlined discovery. In essence, Meta conceded that most people don’t see Messenger as anything more than a messaging app, which was a blow for its broader plans to monetize messaging in a range of new ways.
Instead, it had to go back to the drawing board, and now, with new usage behaviors evolving, it’s moving more in line with usage, as opposed to trying to broaden its market fit.
The growth of calls in Messenger makes sense, given its simplified video and audio connection tools, building onto your existing chats and connections, and this new tab will help to facilitate this – though there’s not a lot of direct benefit for Meta’s business push.
Maybe, through more immediate direct calling, that will help to provide enhanced connection opportunities for brands, but the main impetus is regular users and enhancing existing activity trends.
Meta says that the new tab is intended to ‘create a space for people to deepen their relationships with their friends and communities through shared experiences’.
It likely will succeed on that front, driving more connection within the Messenger app.
TikTok Scales Back Live-Stream Commerce Ambitions, Which Could Be a Big Blow for the App
TikTok’s facing a significant reassessment in its business expansion plans, with the company forced to scale back its live eCommerce initiative in Europe and the US due to operational challenges and lack of consumer interest.
TikTok has been working to integrate live-stream shopping after seeing major success with the option in the Chinese version of the app. But its initial efforts in the UK have been hampered by various problems.
As reported by The Financial Times:
“TikTok had planned to launch the feature in Germany, France, Italy and Spain in the first half of this year, before expanding into the US later in 2022, according to several people briefed on the matter. But the expansion plans have been dropped after the UK project failed to meet targets and influencers dropped out of the scheme, three people said.”
TikTok has since refuted some of FT’s claims, saying that the reported timeline for its commerce push is incorrect, and that it’s focused on fixing problems with its UK operation before expanding, which is still in its roadmap. But the basis – that its program is not going as smoothly as planned – is correct.
TikTok’s UK shopping push has also faced internal problems due to conflicts over working culture and management.
Last month, reports surfaced that TikTok’s parent company ByteDance had been imposing tough conditions on its UK commerce staff, including regular 12-hour days, improbable sales targets, and questions over entitlements.
Now, it seems like the combination of challenges has led to a new growth dilemma for the app – which once again underlines the variance between Asian and western app usage trends.
Social media and messaging apps have become a central element of day-to-day life in several Asian countries, with apps like China’s WeChat and QQ now used for everything from purchasing train tickets to paying bills, to buying groceries, banking, and everything in between.
That spells opportunity for western social media providers, with Meta, in particular, looking to use the Chinese model as a template to help it translate the popularity of WhatsApp and Messenger into even more ubiquitous, more valuable functionality, which could then make them critical connective tools in various markets, solidifying Meta’s market presence.
But for various reasons, Chinese messaging trends have never translated to other markets.
Meta’s Messenger Bots push in 2016 failed to gain traction, and after its Messenger app became ‘too cluttered’ with an ever-expanding range of functionalities, including games, shopping, Stories, and more, Meta eventually scaled back its messaging expansion plans, in favor of keeping the app aligned with its core use case.
Meta then turned to WhatsApp, and making messaging a more critical process in developing markets like India and Indonesia. That expansion is still ongoing, but the signs, at present, don’t suggest that WhatsApp will ever reach the same level of ubiquity that Chinese messaging apps have.
Which then leads to TikTok, the world-beating short-form video app, which has seen massive growth in China, leading to whole new business opportunities, and even market sectors, based on how Chinese users have adapted to in-app commerce.
The Chinese version of TikTok, called ‘Douyin’, generated $119 billion worth of product sales via live broadcasts in 2021, an 7x increase year-over-year, while the number of users engaging with eCommerce live-streams exceeded 384 million, close to half of the platform’s user base.
Given this, you can see why TikTok would view this as a key opportunity in other markets as well – but as noted, Chinese market trends are not always a great proxy for other regions.
The decision to scale back its eCommerce ambitions is a significant blow to TikTok’s expansion plans, not only from a broader revenue perspective (and worth noting, TikTok’s parent company ByteDance recently cut staff due to ongoing revenue pressures), but also in regards to revenue share, and providing a pathway for creators to make money from their efforts in the app.
Unlike YouTube, TikTok clips are too short to add mid and pre-roll ads, which means that creators can’t simply switch on ads to make money from their content. That means that they need to organize brand partnerships to generate income, and on Douyin, in-stream commerce has become the key pathway to exactly that.
Without in-stream product integrations as an option, that will significantly limit creator earnings capacity in the app, which could eventually see them switch focus to other platforms, where they can more effectively monetize their output.
Which may not seem like a major risk, but that’s exact what killed Vine, when Vine creators called for a bigger share of the app’s revenue, then switched to Instagram and YouTube instead when Vine’s parent company Twitter refused to provide such.
Could TikTok eventually face a similar fate?
TikTok, of course, is much bigger than Vine ever was, and is still growing. But limited monetization opportunities could end up being a big challenge for the app – while it also continues to face scrutiny over its impact on youngsters, and the potential for it to be used as a surveillance tool by the Chinese Government.
In isolation, it may not seem like a major move, scaling back its eCommerce ambitions just slightly as it reassesses the best approach. But it’s a significant shift, which will slow down TikTok’s broader expansion. And it could end up hurting the app more than you, initially, would think.
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