Social messenger apps, or chat apps, installed on mobile phones and PCs are one of the fastest growing social media genres, especially among the young.

By far the most popular is Facebook Messenger, followed by WeChat and WhatsApp among global users. WeChat is mostly used in China, where it became an instant hit mostly because other social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are not allowed officially.

WhatsApp is the most popular messaging app in many countries.
WhatsApp is the most popular messaging app in many countries.

Those who use social messaging apps behave much like they do on other social platforms, only they may send their messages to one person in their network, or perhaps a small group.

WhatsApp reportedly averages 600 million users per month, while WeChat and Line each register about 500 million users. Comparatively, Twitter averages 300 million users per month. These users generate billions of messages per month, according to digital content company Digiday.

For magazine and newspaper publishers, chat apps represent an opportunity and a challenge. On one hand, adding chat app share buttons on articles is an easy way to capture potentially significant traffic.

On the other hand, chat apps fall into the category of “dark social,” which means while chat apps will send traffic to publishers’ sites, the referral traffic cannot be measured. However, major chat apps are trying to address this problem in the coming year.

BuzzFeed and USA Today started using WhatsApp in mid-2014 as a means for users to share content. WhatsApp has quickly become an essential tool for referral traffic; it currently represents 18% of Football is Week’s (FTW) Web site for USA Today, while it represents 10% of BuzzFeed’s total sharing, according to Digiday.

WhatsApp is the most popular chat app in many countries, including Brazil, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, the Netherlands, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, and Turkey, and especially in Argentina, Hong Kong, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Singapore, South Africa, and Spain, where the penetration of users exceeds 50%.

Facebook Messenger rules in Australia, Canada, France, Ireland, the Philippines, South Korea, Sweden, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Vietnam, and especially China, where usage exceeds 65%. Skype rules in Poland, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates, according to GWI.

Teenagers are the biggest users of social messaging apps, especially messaging on YouTube, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Twitter. The fastest growing social app in 2014 among teens was Snapchat, which almost quadrupled its percentage of active users to about 16%. For every social messaging app, teens’ usage outpaced the rest of the Internet population in 2014.

For more information, or to download the executive summary of the 2015 Global Digital Media Trendbook, go to www.wnmn.org.