Advertising in a Messaging First World: The Shift from Newsfeeds to Stories and Messaging Apps

Written By Steve Rado

It’s coming. The dawn of a messaging first world. In 2018, 72 trillion messages were sent across messaging platforms. Facebook has announced its new plan to focus on privacy through private communications in messaging apps. Facebook says the future of social media lies in private messaging and small group chats. If you’re in marketing, this should alarm you, if you’re in social media marketing this should terrify you.

In the digital age, advertisers have relied on the web, search, and social platforms to reach their target audience. These different channels have been extremely effective in creating ad platforms and delivery methods that engage consumers and drive results thanks to personalized targeting and delivery of ads in ways that feel native. In a messaging-first world, reaching consumers where they spend most of their time will become increasingly difficult. Marketers will need to adapt.


Newsfeeds are a way to broadcast what you are doing and generate social proof (with likes and comments) that people like you or your content.

Newsfeeds are changing. In a recently leaked Instagram prototype, we can see that the number of Likes on a post is hidden to viewers. Instagram said this potential feature is to “reduce pressure (to be popular) on Instagram”, the “pressure” being to show social proof of popularity on your posts. This is in line with Facebook shifting focus from public displays of popularity and engagement on content, to more private communications between individuals and small groups of people. With a new claim of focus on privacy, Facebook will need to ensure that they continue to provide a positive experience for their users, by enabling them to connect and communicate with each other. This trust will need to be established through privacy and data security assurances, and most importantly, putting the users needs before the advertisers needs.

In the near future Newsfeeds will no longer be the primary way that people interact on social media platforms. Mark Zuckerberg predicts usage of Stories, the ephemeral content medium that Snapchat pioneered and Facebook copied, will surpass Newsfeeds as the primary way that people communicate on social media. There are already over 1 billion Stories shared everyday.

A key difference between Stories and Newsfeeds is the way that people respond to them. In Newsfeeds when a user posts a piece of content, other users like or comment on this content publicly. This creates a more broad, yet inclusive, social experience involving friends, family, acquaintances, and sometimes strangers.

Stories are different. When a person uploads a Story they are broadcasting their content to their audience, but there is no like or comment button. Instead viewers of the Story are encouraged to respond with a message (or emoji or GIF) privately to the person who posted the Story. This then creates a private messaging conversation between two people. When Newsfeeds are the primary vehicle for content consumption and engagement on the conversation around content is done publicly, directly in the comment section of a post. When Stories take over, conversations will be more private, and therefore more difficult for advertisers to reach. 

This says a lot about the shift of the sharing culture on social media. People don’t want to have conversations that the whole internet can see anymore. Before the creation of social media in the early 2000s, most conversations and communications were private. For the last 15 years, people have been exploring this new, drastically different way of communicating; to a large audience of friends, acquaintances, and even strangers. Some businesses and people who have become influencers have enjoyed this global cultural shift in communication. While the average person has begun to realize this type of communication to a broad audience is not the healthiest way to communicate.

Brands have been effective in distributing their content to their audiences of followers across social platforms. They’ve done so primarily in the Newsfeed format. But as time spent and engagement in Newsfeeds declines, and conversations move to private 1-on-1 and small group messages, brands will need to find a way into messaging conversations. This will be critical if brands want to enjoy the same engagement and success they enjoyed in the Newsfeed Era.

This will require seismic shift from advertisers. In the digital age ads have often been interruptive, even when seemingly native or highly targeted. Rather than directing advertisements to consumers like brands have been doing on social platforms, brands will need to instead provide tools to help consumers in messaging apps. By helping consumers improve the conversations and deepen the connections people have in messaging apps, brands can create positive consumer experiences and stay top of mind. These tools can come in many forms. Some of the most effective are emojis, stickers, and GIFs.


Many marketers understand the need to advertise within messaging apps. WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger are growing twice as fast as Facebook (the original platform) with 30% year-over-year growth, and each have over 1.5 billion users worldwide. WeChat, the leading messaging app in China recently crossed the 1 billion user milestone. In 2018, messaging apps passed social media apps in terms percent of daily usage.

chart of social media use

Messaging apps will continue to grow, and we will continue to spend more and more of our screen time in group or direct message chat, not on social networks. As humans, we’ve experimented with social sharing over the last 15 years, and are beginning to transition back to more private communications. 


If advertisers try to show a banner ad or inject advertisements in the middle of messaging conversations, users would leave the messaging service for another ad-free app or at the very least be very annoyed. Detailed targeting would not be as easy since consumers on typically use multiple different messaging apps, (although Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp are the leading messaging apps so all data will still be under the Facebook umbrella). Native ad delivery will be more difficult. In direct messaging apps, there are no brand pages or accounts and there are no influencers. This makes it difficult for a brand to natively embed their content and ads into messaging apps. 

Marketers are still trying to figure out how to advertise in messaging apps. Facebook Messenger offers a few different ways to reach consumers. For example, as a business you can send a promotional ad directly into someone’s Messenger inbox. In case you ever wondered what could be worse than getting spammed with ads in your email inbox, you can now get spammed with ads in your messaging inbox.

As horrible as this seems from a consumer perspective, marketers are getting 88% open rates and 56% CTRs with advertisements in messenger. This is most likely due to the laser-focused targeting by Facebook, after all Facebook knows you better than your spouse.

However, the ability for advertisers to target consumers with such accuracy through Facebook Messenger directly contradicts Facebook’s recently shifted focus on user privacy. Facebook will have to reduce the individualized consumer data they sell to advertisers, if they want to be seriously viewed as a company concerned with user privacy.

GIFs, stickers, and emojis provide an opportunity for brands to engage consumers in these messaging apps in a non-transactional way. They appeal to emotion and create better conversation between individuals.

Stickers and GIFs allow brands to be apart of messaging conversation directly. Not just an ad in the inbox, They  are used in conversations. There’s no open rate or CTR with a GIF or sticker. They aren’t delivered direct to consumer by advertisers, they are delivered by consumers to consumers. A sticker or GIF sent to a friend in a messaging conversation expects a response. The sender selects the sticker or GIF they want to send that will be most relevant to the conversation. The receiver then views, internalizes the content, and responds.

There are many ways to get your brand into messaging conversations. A brand can create a custom Sticker keyboard pack. These are similar to the custom emoji keyboards that were popular a few years ago. The key difference is that with emoji keyboards, users had to download the keyword to begin using it with conversations. Now with many messaging apps, including iMessage, brands can create a sticker packs and make them available for free (or purchase) directly through the iMessage app. This way consumers can use the branded stickers without having to download a separate app because the branded sticker packs are already integrated into the messaging app. Creating a branded sticker pack that integrates with iMessage or other popular messaging apps is one way to generate consumer engagement, revenue, and keep your brand top of mind with consumers.

Many brands have been creating custom Sticker keyboards as a way to give consumers the ability to enrich their messaging conversation with friends. For example, New England Patriots fans can use a Patriots sticker pack and send animated branded Patriots GIF stickers when they are talking to their friends and fellow fans. Many brands are already doing this including Sephora, Burger King, and Disney.

Instagram has been testing Stickers in direct messaging conversations. This further points to the initiative to drive private messaging to the forefront of Facebook’s core platform. With Stickers (especially GIF Stickers) getting a more prominent placing in Facebook-owned apps like Instagram, advertisers will have an opportunity to create GIF stickers that promote their brand and provide users with the tools to express themselves in messaging conversations across all Facebook products.

Another effective way to inject branded content into messaging conversation is through creating traditional GIFs, the short looping video clips. Major GIF platforms like GIPHY, Tenor, and Gfycat serve up over 7 billion GIFs everyday across the popular third-party messaging apps that they integrate with. Brands can get a share of these billion daily impressions by making profiles on these GIF platforms, creating GIFs, and optimizing GIFs with keywords relevant to their brand and content. Bubly, the new sparkling water brand by Pepsi that jumped from 2.3% to 6.5% market share in the seltzer market knows that GIFs are an effective way to reach consumers. Bubly has seen great success in their GIF marketing that has earned them over 8 billion impressions. They even features their GIFs directly on the homepage of their website. Brands like Wells Fargo, Snickers, and Pepsi have all invested in GIFs as a marketing channel to create positive branded experiences with consumers while keeping their brand top of mind. It’s easy to get started. All you need to get is apply for a verified brand account and start uploading GIFs. Your GIFs will appear organically in search results for your target keywords, and consumers will be able to start using your branded GIFs in conversations in messaging apps. GIPHY, Tenor, and Gfycat all offer promoted placement much like Google AdWords for brands that want to guarantee their GIFs are used by consumers who are searching for keywords relevant to their brand or products. Promoted GIF placement can bring one of the most effective ways to get engaged eyeballs of all marketing channels. Unlike OOH, SEM, or social media ads, where your ads can be very easily ignored, GIF advertising guarantees engagement because it relies on peer-to-peer sharing for distribution. With OOH, your target consumers are probably looking at their phone, not your ad. With SEM, consumers are so subject to banner blindness they are looking right past your ad for organic search results. With GIFs you get guaranteed impressions and consumer engagement, because your audience sees your GIFs when they actively choose to use your branded GIF to send to someone they are communicating with, or they receive your GIF in the context of a conversation in a messaging app.

The world of marketing is changing. As consumers shift attention from Newsfeeds and social media apps and spend more of their time in group and 1-on-1 conversations in messaging apps, brands and marketers will need to adjust. The tried and true marketing channels for reaching consumers will still be effective, but in order to stay top of mind brands will need to embrace messaging apps as a new, powerful, and complementary vertical in their marketing strategy.. Messaging apps as a marketing channel will continue to grow as consumer attention shifts. Brands need to create content that can be used by consumers as a tool to enhance their conversations, rather than spamming consumers with overtly promotional ads they don’t want to see. Creative content that incites joy and humor and enhances consumer conversations, will allow brands to win over consumers and stay top of mind while earning brand impressions.

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