What: Versy, a social messaging platform that merges 150 content channels with group chats, is entering the US-Hispanic market. Why It Matters: Hispanic and Latin American internet users are some of the most active on the planet, and Versy’s can give brands the tools to not only reach them, but engage effectively with them.
By Gretchen Gardner
As Social Advertising Budgets are the fastest growing category in the market,increasingly sophisticated social messaging platforms are entering the U.S. Hispanic market. Social messaging platforms are not easy to build. And connecting them with compelling, bite-sized content in an informal but seamless way is even harder.
But Versy, a venture led by a team of experienced experts in telecommunications and social networks, is doing just that. What’s more, the executive team is betting on the US-Hispanic to drive its success. Versy is already present in the Latin America with a particular emphasis in Mexico.
The team, 14 months in, began by developing a chat platform based on heavy research. CTO Bruce Jackson tells Portada. “In the first iteration, we did lots of research on how people organize their lives and how they socialize.”
Group Chat is more popular among U.S. Hispanics.
Focusing on Latin America and the US-Hispanic markets, groups that represent some of the Internet’s most active users, the executives found that group chat was much more popular among this demographic than elsewhere, where one-on-one chats may continue to dominate.
Their first move was to make the group chats unlimited in size so that they could “grow organically, like a house party,”says Jackson, in which friends could invite friends, and although you may not know everyone, you have something in common and feel comfortable interacting.
According to CEO Stephen Dunford, the team organized white-label instant messaging groups and accessed 85% of mobile subscribers in Latin America while building relationships with publishers like Warner Bros., Universal Pictures, Comedy Central and Sony, who were excited about Versy’s geographical focus.
There was another focus that drew the attention of publishers: Versy was, and is, convinced that the future of messaging platforms is in igniting conversations through adding content to the mix. While the market is saturated with messaging apps, nobody has been able to shift the priority from chat to content, and building engaging conversations around it.
Does the future of messaging platforms lie in igniting conversations by adding content to the mix?
One of the first to sign up for this switch was Ministry of Sound, a global music and entertainment brand that wanted to connect more with Latin American audiences. Versy gives one of the world’s largest independent labels something it cannot achieve on other platforms: an open forum, inspired by artists and their work, in which young music lovers can meaningfully interact the way they no longer do on Facebook or Twitter.
Similar success was found in a partnership with Brazilian radio station Metropolitana FM, which is based in Sao Paolo and has over 1.8 million monthly listeners. The station, which had been looking for new ways to diversify and engage audiences, now uses Versy to build chat rooms in which the radio presenters from one of their top shows, ‘Chupim‘ interact directly with listeners while on the air.
Cristiano Castilho, commercial director at Metropolitana FM, explained that the station’s goal wasn’t just to connect, but to interact with listeners in “a meaningful way.”
“Young people are always on the move with their mobile phones by their side, and Versy is the perfect platform to interact with them during live broadcast shows. Currently ‘Chupim’ is the channel with the highest number of engaged users interacting through Versy’s chat group,” Castilho said.
250 Content Channels
Developing a platform like this is no easy task, but with 250 branded and non-branded content channels eager to incorporate more video and sound into public and private chat, the Versy team is excited by the challenge.
While the Versy team doesn’t have an advertising model this early in the game, VP of Business Development Neal Hamilton was quick to point out that the platform itself gives brands a way to conduct content marketing that connects with people, as opposed to traditional advertising, which runs the risk of turning millennials off.
Plus, Hamilton notes: “Young people don’t see advertisements anymore, and not just because of ad-blockers, but because they are so used to them.”
The challenge, Hamilton states, is to give brands tools to use Versy to tell their story in a way that works. And since Versy connects you straight to the people, brands will have plenty of ways to measure the effectiveness of their content marketing strategies.
Social networks make work more complex for traditional media companies as they compete for consumer attention particularly the coveted Millennial. An even bigger challenge is to find a way to monetize that attention. What strategies and tools can media companies rely upon when it comes to monetize their content at social networks? An in-depth feature story by Portada’s Digital Media Correspondent Susan Kuchinskas.
Adobe has a great TV spot: A marketing exec hears two hipsters chatting in the elevator about the latest cool online service. He rushes into his office and musters his troops to get busy building a presence there. Meanwhile, by the time the elevator is heading down again, the hipsters have already abandoned that network for the next new thing (watch video below). That’s the challenge for media companies as they compete for consumer attention. An even bigger challenge is finding a way to monetize that attention. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sr_EtMhM3fg&w=560&h=315]
As media consumption keeps moving to social media, publishers must change with the times – especially if they want to reach younger audiences. According to a recent study by Pew Research Center, 61 percent of millennials got political news on Facebook in any given week, while only 37 percent watched news on TV. Half of Gen X consumers got political and government news on Facebook, versus the 39 percent of Baby Boomers who got their news from Facebook.
“Consumption has evolved. The younger generations are informed via mobile. Print publications need to adapt this new form of online dialogue,” says Nick Venezia, CEO of Social Outlier, a digital agency that builds engagement programs. To accomplish this, publishers may need to change their content models, as well. “Where do people have their eyes?” he asks rhetorically. “On their phones. On mobile. As a publisher, you want to put your message where it’s viewable in a microburst of information.”
Where do people have their eyes? On their phones. On mobile. As a publisher, you want to put your message where it’s viewable in a microburst of information.
This illustrates the problem for publishers looking to monetize their audiences on social media. In the early days of a new channel, if you’re bleeding edge and can quickly get out content, “You can be very successful, and even get some virality, because there is limited content,” says Dane Atkinson, CEO of SumAll, a provider of social media analytics. But consumers are fickle, and social media attention is such a moving target, he says, “You need to hire someone who’s 14 and lives and breathes this stuff.”
You need to hire someone who’s 14 and lives and breathes this stuff.
Another challenge is that for most brands – of all kinds – audiences on different social networks are quite different, according to Atkinson. “We’ve been data-digging aggressively, and we found that the overlap between a brand’s audience segments is almost nonexistent. We expected that between a brand’s email list and its Facebook following, there would be an overlap of at least 20 percent. Instead, it averages 4 percent,” he says.
This is both bad and good news for publishers. The bad news is that email and web marketing may be missing a lot of the audience potential. The good news is, as Atkinson says, “Social media is virgin territory” for monetization. (SumAll is releasing a new product, Audience Boost, to help publishers build audiences on Instagram.)
It can be done. According to the Newspaper Association of America, newspapers’ revenue from digital channels grew 3.7 percent in 2013, while revenue from “new/other” channels was 5 percent.
We expected that between a brand’s email list and its Facebook following, there would be an overlap of at least 20 percent. Instead, it averages 4 percent.
“From a business perspective, monetizing offsite traffic is not surprising and is to be somewhat expected considering that the avenues to which users are discovering content have completely changed. Delivering the advertiser the impressions they seek via one distribution platform is no longer scalable or as advantageous for the publisher,” says Jessica Richards, senior vice president for Socialyse, a division of Havas Media North America.
Snagging Content and Advertising
Social networks have made some big moves to snag content and advertising.
Twitter’s Project Lightning will provide curated content streams tied to live events that can be distributed beyond Twitter, according to BuzzFeed. (Check out Twitter’s recently announced new Feature Moments).
Meanwhile, Snapchat’s year-old Live Stories product has been racking up eyeballs. Ben Schwerin, Snapchat’s director of partnerships,told Re/code that they draw an average of 20 million people in 24 hours, adding that its three-day Live Story Snapchat during the Coachella festival generated 40 million unique viewers.
According to Gareth Capon, CEO of Grabyo, a company that works with media companies and sports rights holders to help them share and monetize content on social platforms,
“Project Lightning is more toward algorithmic curation, while Snapchat is more editorial curation. But with all of these platforms, it is not about archived or discoverable video, it’s about moments happening in real time. That is really different from the traditional publishing proposition.”
And then, there’s Facebook. This fall, Facebook began sharing revenue from ads shown alongside videos with the videos’ creators, YouTube-style.
The New York Times, NBC News and The Atlantic are among the publishers that have agreed to publish stories directly into Facebook in its new Instant Articles program. Facebook positioned Instant Articles as a publishing tool to enable faster loading of stories within news feeds. But Facebook also can sell ads against publishers’ articles. At launch, publishers will keep 100 percent of revenue from ads they’ve sold and 70 percent if Facebook sells the ad, according to The Australian.
Christophe Jammet, director of social media and mobile at DDG, a consultancy that works with Fortune 500 companies, thinks Instant Articles may be a good alternative to ad-cluttered news websites. “The standardized Facebook news feed has lots of rules and standards for where ads can be implemented,” he says. “It’s a cleaner interface and will be more consumable.”
The potential downside for publishers, he adds, is that their content could become dissociated from their brand. “It’s a question of identity. You’re making money and taking advantage of this huge user base, but it’s not on your property. I think you will see a split in publishers who are okay with that and those who have a problem with it.”
It’s a question of identity. You’re making money and taking advantage of this huge user base, but it’s not on your property.
Made for Monetization
While many social platforms, including Twitter and Snapchat, are figuring out ad models years after launch, other services have built in advertising capabilities. A case in point is Versy, a chat app that lets Latin American mobile users – on both smartphones and feature phones — build communities around content, as well as follow channels created by other users and Versy content partners.
Those content partners include Sony Music, Sony Pictures, Universal Music, Warner Music, Grupo Acir, MixFM’s La Estación and Terra. They can take advantage of channel sponsorship packages, whereby a specific content is brought to users by the brand, as well as promoted chat posts. The latter are specifically targeted promotional posts inserted into channels or conversations.
“The value in Versy is an engaged user base that is filtered by relevance. If someone chooses to follow a channel around an artist or sports personality, and it has a similar audience to a brand’s, it’s much easier to find relevance in that channel,” says Maren Coleman, until recently vice president of marketing at Myriad Group, maker of the Versy chat app that was formerly known as MSNGR.
Coleman notes that Latin American audiences are highly social and love to share. On the chat app, more often than not, the sharing is one-to-many, that is, one person shares a piece of content to members of one of her groups. “More often than not, it’s one to many, not one to one. That allows that content’s visibility to grow much faster,” she says.
Ads on Versy can help publishers increase revenue by expanding their user base, according to Coleman. For example, she says Mix.fm has more than 120,000 followers on its Versy channel, compared to 42,000 Twitter followers. “”It’s another channel and broadens their visibility,” she says.
Grabyo is a real-time social video platform that lets media companies, broadcasters, rights holders and celebrities distribute social video assets. The video can be live feeds; on-demand video; or archived video assets. We work with media companies, broadcasters and rights holders. For example, Wimbledon’s digital team edited clips and instantaneously sent them out to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, as well as publishing them on the brand website and mobile apps. It also worked with La Liga, the Spanish professional soccer association.
In addition to distribution, Grabyo provides monetization. Brand placements are typically sold as sponsorships, according to Capon, although some social networks, such as Twitter Amplify, insert preroll advertisements. As with Facebook, media companies working with Grabyo can sell the ads themselves or allow the network to sell them. In addition, some rights holders use Grabyo to promote and drive traffic to revenue-generating sites, he says. “You get a huge spike in engagement when you share video in real time.”
“Opportunities for monetization exist across all platforms,” Capon says, and the recent spate of ad product announcements indicates that there’s more to come. He says, “This space is still incredibly new and growing fast.”
Which makes it tricky. While leveraging Facebook’s ad network may be more efficient than selling and managing these ads internally, Jammet warns that publishers that move content with advertising to social media could be cannibalizing ad sales on their own sites. He suggests that publications might take a blended approach instead. “There might be really captivating stories or easily consumable content that they might put through the Facebook product but only as an enticement to drive people to their web properties.”
Of course, if social media consumption continues its upward trend, they won’t have a choice.
This article was published in the Q4 2015 print issue of Portada.
What: Swiss Mobile software developer Myriad Group has revamped its msngr social messaging service by renaming it Versy and turning it to a more content-driven social experience. Why it matters: Versy is Latin America focused and wants to differentiate its product from competitors WhatsApp, owned by Facebook, and Facebook Messenger.
Mobile software developer Myriad Group has brushed up its msngr social messaging service by renaming it Versy and turning it from a pure group chat proposition to a more content-driven social experience.
For the effort, Myriad teamed up with major content providers like Warner Music, Sony Pictures Entertainment and Perform Group, to differentiate Versy’s offer from that of other messaging platforms such as WhatsApp, Line and WeChat, making it easier to share content within the app.
According to Myriad, the msngr chat service recorded 171 million registered subscribers at the end of 2015 first quarter, compared with 140 million at the end of the fourth quarter of 2014, which means a 22% increase. In Latin America, particularly, the company registered double-digit growth.
We are offering brands the unique opportunity to engage with an untapped audience of feature phone users, which are still a majority throughout Latin America.
“Versy will continue to expand its content offering via strategic relationships with content and brand partners, as well as a growing portfolio of independent content producers (bloggers, influencers and trendsetters), whilst introducing new tools and features,” said Myriad in a statement.
Focus on Latin America
Maren Coleman, VP of Marketing at Versy, tells Portada that Versy is available globally. “However, our current focus is Latin America where we have close relationships with brand and content partners and strategic partnerships with some of the leading telecom companies. Since we launched we have registered a rapid growth in this region, particularly in Mexico. Our plan is to continue to improve the Versy service in Latin America, clarifying our unique proposition and experience, whilst working closely with partners to offer the best content available online.”
Myriad’s chat application, Versy, is mostly used in Latin America and allows users to connect with friends and family for free across feature phones as well as smartphones. Over 60 million content items have been shared on the Versy app. Telcel users in Mexico can use the service without using up any data whatsoever. Versy has strategic relationships with major telco companies including America Movil and Telefonica.
Offering Ways for Brands to Enter Digital Conversations
“Brands and content partners can use Versy to create content channels and start engaging their audience with content that is relevant to them. This content can then be shared and discussed with their groups of friends on Versy, or shared on other social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook or whatsapp,”said Coleman.
According to Coleman, “Currently we are offering Channel Sponsorship Packages and Promoted Chat Posts. Sponsorships are similar to a TV format whereby specific channels will be ‘brought to you by [brand X]’ and the brand secures exposure through integrated branding within the channel and any content which is subsequently shared. Promoted Chat Posts are specifically targeted promotional posts which are inserted at specific times into specific Channels/Conversations with specific CTA designed for sharing internally within Versy and externally into other communication platforms.”
Versy has been working closely with brands and content partners such Sony Music, Sony Pictures, Universal Music, Warner Music and local content partners such as Grupo Acir, Terra and many others, so they can offer content that is interesting and engaging, to ensure it sparks conversation. “We are offering them the unique opportunity to engage with an untapped audience of feature phone users, which are still a majority throughout Latin America,” Coleman says. He also notes that “Additionally, we work with companies such as Perform Media – a leading digital company that commercialises sport content across digital platforms to engage a global audience.”