WhatsApp, which crossed 2 billion monthly active users this year, is the world's most popular messaging app by a considerable mark. Yet in Campaign Asia-Pacific and Nielsen's Asia's Top 1000 Brands report, it is pipped by its sister Facebook Messenger as the top messaging service, a new category for 2020.
This statistic demonstrates that despite WhatsApp having much greater penetration, Facebook Messenger (which counts around 1.3 billion users) has higher brand recall—speaking to the investments it has made in its product and the diversified tools it offers to users. The ranking of brands in the Top 1000 Brands survey is often down to how innovative they are perceived to be, rather than how dominant they might be in their category.
The two services have rather distinct offerings. Messenger is closer to Facebook's main app, borrowing features like its ephemeral Stories. It has invested heavily in its business offering over the past year with features like appointment booking and a lead generation tool, and in April, it began rolling out a new feature called Messenger Rooms, a Zoom-like video chat feature that allows users to chat with up to 50 people at a time. Crucially, Messenger also contains advertising—and ad slots have become more prominent since they were first introduced to the app in 2017. One might assume this would reduce its brand affinity, but it doesn't appear to have phased users.
Contrastingly, WhatsApp currently remains advertising-free and offers a much cleaner, simpler messaging service. WhatsApp has also been investing in its business offering, with business accounts for smaller companies and an API for enterprise-level clients. The vast majority of its innovation comes out of India, its biggest market, where it counts 400 million users as of July last year. It formally launched its WhatsApp Payments service in India last month, after two years of testing and approvals. Furthermore, Facebook's recent investments in the region, including in India's Reliance Jio and Indonesia's Gojek, have been designed to bulk up its digital payments offering, so we might expect to see this bump it up the ranking next year.
While Facebook Messenger sits on top overall in the messaging services category, WhatsApp is the most popular in more countries. Messenger is top in Australia, Vietnam, the Philippines and New Zealand; WhatsApp is top in Singapore, India, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Charles Tidswell, the vice-president of JAPAC at social media marketing firm Socialbakers said it is "no surprise" to see Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp coming out on top of the new category.
"Outside of China nothing really comes close to offering the scale of Facebook and its family of apps," he said.
"Back at the start of last year Mark Zuckerberg talked about how Facebook was really investing in its messaging capabilities to offer users a safe, secure environment in which to communicate with friends, family and with businesses," Tidswell added. "The COVID-19 pandemic has driven users to video calls and group chats faster than ever before as people looked to keep in touch with friends and family despite the enforced distance."
Line is the most popular messaging service in its home market of Japan, plus Taiwan and Thailand—solidifying its place as the third most popular app overall—meanwhile homegrown apps WeChat and KakaoTalk top China and South Korea, respectively. It is interesting that Line sits higher than WeChat, at fifth place, despite having far fewer users (around 200 million compared to WeChat's 1 billion).
In the overall Top 1000 Brands ranking, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp shot right up to 51st and 54th, respectively—impressive for new entrants. Line surged from 253rd to 64th, Twitter surged from 197th to 69th; and WeChat from 189th to 117th. Korea’s KakaoTalk sat much further down, at 396th overall.
Looking at the social networking category, the top five platforms retained their slots (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Line, Yahoo), but WeChat fell from 6th to 8th place, falling behind LinkedIn and Google Plus. Pinterest lifted from 12th to 9th place, and Tencent from 19th to 10th. Douyin, ByteDance and TikTok were new entrants at 12th, 20th and 21st place respectively.
Tidswell noted: "One interesting development is the sudden emergence of Douyin, ByteDance and TikTok. In Q1, 2020 TikTok broke the record for being the most downloaded app of all time in one quarter. The fun, authentic, highly shareable nature of TikTok's content has made it a winner during the pandemic and it's new TikTok for Business offering is making it all the more appealing to advertisers too."
TikTok is in hot water in Asia now though, banned in India earlier this month and now retreating from Hong Kong. This may impact its ranking next year.
In the overall Top 1000 Brands ranking, Facebook lifted two slots from 26 to 24, despite facing mounting criticism for its handling of misinformation and hate speech over the past six months.