WhatsApp Usage Trends

Adults in the UK tend to use WhatsApp as the default service for their day-to-day interaction with close friends and family, ranging from sending online SMS to making video calls. This, among other usage information, constitutes the major trends around the platform’s usage in the UK. While Britons are yet to fully deploy WhatsApp Chatbots in running product campaigns, Adidas’ ‘Rent-a-Pred’ campaign demonstrates how the platform can be used in promoting campaigns/products and communicating with customers. Lastly, the key messaging platforms are Snapchat, Messenger, and Instagram.

WhatsApp Usage Trends

#1: Increasing WhatsApp Usage Within the Past Five Years Among Britons

  • Britons use WhatsApp as the default service for day-to-day interaction with close friends and family. From 2016 to 2018, WhatsApp grew its user base by 20%, and almost reached 60% of the British population in 2018. “The intuitive WhatsApp interface and its wide-reaching popularity made it the most popular messaging app within all age groups.” Based on daily users, WhatsApp’s share of users increased from 34% in 2017 to 46% in 2019.

Growth in the UK

  • By 2019, around 58% of UK-internet users or 27.6 million used WhatsApp, putting it a little behind Facebook Messenger. This made it the fourth-biggest total user base of any social platform in the country and the most used app in the UK (monthly active users), according to App Annie and referenced by Hootsuite.
  • Corroborating this trend in terms of monthly visitors, “UKOM approved Comscore data provide that in 2019, WhatsApp’s monthly adult audience grew by 13% or just over 3 million,” from 23 million unique visitors in December 2018, to over 26 million by December 2019. “Ofcom research also indicates that while the trend of daily users across some of the most popular online text, voice and video calling services has been relatively stable since 2017, WhatsApp saw the greatest increase in its share of daily users.”
  • By September 2020, the number of unique visitors, also called unique users, increased to 29.617 million, with the reach increasing to 69.6%.
  • This has been identified and provided as a trend because multiple sources such as UKOM, Statista, Business of Apps, Messenger People, and Comscore provide corroborating information in establishing the trend.
  • The increasing popularity of the platform among all age groups in the UK and the increasing use of smartphones and mobile data are two factors leading this trend. Avocado Social partly corroborates this information.

#2: Demographics: WhatsApp Generally Trends Among Users Aged 18-44 but also Significantly Grows Among the Seniors

  • “According to We are Flint WhatsApp statistics, usage is most concentrated in younger age groups in the UK, with 84% of 25-34 year old using the app, followed by 80% of 18-24 old. That said, usage is nearly as high (78%) in the 35-44 year old grouping, and declines relatively gradually down the age groups.”
  • Other demographic details show that “the reach among females 25-34 with children rises to 80% with the service being particularly popular among mums and females (62%) than males (54%).” WhatsApp is also used the most by the ABC1 social grade who are higher managerial and administrative professionals; intermediate managerial and administrative professionals; and supervisory, clerical and junior managerial, administrative professionals. Mostly used by Britons in the urban areas, the platform mostly trends among households that earn more than £48K (75%), followed by those that earn £34K-£48K (65%).WhatsApp
  • “WhatsApp’s monthly reach among UK online smartphone users is now 67% but it is 25-34 year old (73%) who are most likely to use it. Although reach may be highest among 25-34s, in 2019 WhatsApp’s audience grew fastest among those aged 55+. The growth rate was less than 10% among under 35s but 23% for the over 55s.” And now, “nearly 1.5 million adults over 55 years old use WhatsApp but don’t use other Facebook apps on their smartphone.”

WhatsApp Messenger Mobile App

  • “Furthermore, for those aged 55+, WhatsApp is the app with the highest reach (63%), marginally ahead of Google Search (63%) and Facebook (61%). Only 23% of 55+ use the Instagram app on their smartphone and engagement among those that do is low — on average 1 hour 50 minutes per month per visitor compared to 5 hours 14 minutes for 18-24s.”
  • This trend has been identified and established as a trend because multiple resources such as We Are Flint, Statista, UKOM, Business of Apps, and Messenger People provide corroborating information about the trend.
  • While WhatsApp generally trends among Britons with ages from 18-44, Britons aged 25-35 are specifically leading the trend. Usage among those aged over 55 is also a contributing factor.

#3: Children Under the Legal Age are also Increasingly Using WhatsApp

  • “Children, especially older children, often use the online services that are most popular with UK adults, including social media services that have built-in direct communication functionality such as direct messaging or online calling.” Ofcom research shows that 70% of children aged 12-15 and 19% of children aged 8-11 claim to have a social media profile or account, despite most social media sites having minimum age requirements, such as 16 years for WhatsApp.
  • Almost seven in ten 12-15s with a social media account use Facebook, WhatsApp or Instagram. In 2018, research indicated that 43% of 12-15s use WhatsApp, which has a minimum age of 16, including among the younger groups, as 9% of 8-11 year olds used WhatsApp or Snapchat.
  • The use of WhatsApp as the main account had increased significantly since 2018. Previously, Facebook and Snapchat had been the most-used sites/apps among 12-15s with a social media account. However, “WhatsApp, in particular, has gained in popularity over the past years and is now used by 62% of 12-15s — up from 43% in 2018. This means that, for the first time, WhatsApp counts among Facebook (69%), Snapchat (68%) and Instagram (66%) as one of the top social media platforms used by children.
  • Furthermore, “while fewer children say that WhatsApp is the app they use the most (14%), it is the only platform to see a year-on-year increase (up from 5%). Below, a graph published by The Courier in this regard, demonstrates the ranking.

#4: Usage Habits: Britons are Using WhatsApp Even More Often

  • As of 2018, only 26% of adult Britons used WhatsApp several times a day while 9% and another 9% reported having used the platform once a day and once every few days, respectively.
  • However, these numbers have significantly increased in 2020. According to Statista, “in the first quarter of 2020, 65% of respondents in the UK said they used WhatsApp several times a day; 16% used the platform once a day, while a share of 11% of respondents reported using the platform a few times a week.”
  • By the third quarter of 2020, “almost three-quarters (75%) of British WhatsApp users said they used the app daily. Nearly all users (99%) said they used the app at least once a month.”
  • The average time spent by Britons on WhatsApp in September 2019 was 7 minutes and 7 seconds. By April 2020, WhatsApp users each spent 10 minutes per day on average in April 2020, four minutes more than in January.
  • In terms of the total minutes, Britons spent 4,972 minutes on WhatsApp in September 2019, which increased to 6,748 minutes by September 2020.
  • This has been determined as a trend because multiple resources, including Statista, Comscore, UKOM, and the UK Office of Communication (OfCom), provided insights in the analysis of the trend, and they have been used in a corroborating manner.
  • Adult Britons are leading this trend.

#5: User Behavior and Preferences: Britons Majorly use WhatsApp for Online Text Messaging and the Increasing use of Voice and Video Calling

  • “WhatsApp is the most frequently used service and the most-accessed service for online text messaging, with four in ten adult internet users using it on a daily basis (40%), over half using it at least weekly (57%), and 71% of all adult internet users ever accessing the service in the past year.”
  • Along with Facebook Messenger, it is one of the leading and most-used services for each of online text messages (57%), voice calls (33%) and video calls (20%). The platform accounted for the most popular service for online messaging, voice and video communication in the first half (61%) and second half (62%) of 2019 in the UK.
  • “The level of use of WhatsApp for text messaging was very similar to the use and reach of SMS among adult internet users. Although more adult internet users report having used SMS (94%) than WhatsApp (71%) for text messaging in the last 12 months. But on a daily basis, they are using WhatsApp (40%) and SMS (41%) to a similar extent.”
  • While online adults in the UK are using WhatsApp for text messaging daily to a similar extent as SMS (40% vs. 41%), the use of video calling, ‘at least weekly,’ has more than doubled (35% vs. 71%) because of the imposition of measures around the coronavirus pandemic.
  • On the other hand, “while some larger companies have not had such large increases in their user base, many have seen activity on their platforms grow.” On WhatsApp, voice and video calling have more than doubled in the past months. Furthermore, “there has been a very significant increase in the proportion of consumers using these video calling services during the coronavirus pandemic. The ‘at least weekly’ use of many already popular video calling services has more than doubled, including the use of WhatsApp (from 20% to 49%).”
  • During the Pandemic, among other media such as the BBC, government officials, and social media, adult Britons used WhatsApp as a source of information about the coronavirus. Albeit the least among other media or group of information sources, about 17% of adults used the platform as an information during week 1 of the pandemic in the UK. This number declined to 9% as the pandemic progressed to week 8.
  • This has been determined as a trend because it was provided by the UK Office of Communications (OfCom) in its annual research report, One Nation.
  • Adult internet users in the UK are leading this trend.

#6: Businesses are Using WhatsApp to Connect with their Audience for Customer Care Purposes

  • “The tectonic shift towards social media has transformed communications with apps like Facebook Messenger, Twitter and WhatsApp being adopted in ever increasing numbers for consumer conversations. However, the sands are shifting yet again as customers are opting for private over public social media app technology. There is an increasing trend towards businesses tapping into the benefits of increasingly sophisticated platforms like WhatsApp.”
  • “WhatsApp Business presents a great opportunity for brands to connect with their audience. It’s free to download and was built with the small business owner in mind. It’s a great way to connect with customers by using tools to automate, sort and quickly respond to messages.”
  • “WhatsApp Business APIs are currently available from more than 60 partners, and permit inbound traffic (such as customer care enquiries initiated by customers via WhatsApp), and outbound traffic (such as updates and alerts sent to customers who have already contacted a business via WhatsApp).” “Mobilesquared predicts the majority of the business messaging traffic generated over WhatsApp will be inbound traffic (also referred to as P2A or person-2-application), making WhatsApp Business the go-to messaging channel for customer care.”
  • “WhatsApp Business gives brands the ability to create mobile storefronts for their businesses with catalogs and accept secure payments using Facebook Pay.” The app is taking control in the work side of the story, businessmen and women using it more and more in their everyday business activities.” Also, the enterprise solution will allow global companies to provide customers with useful notifications like flight times, delivery confirmations, and other updates.”
  • WhatsApp was launched for businesses in 2018 in the UK. This suggests why there is limited analysis around it trends in the UK and globally, as available data mainly provide insights into the emerging trends and projections in the global space. Hence, available data has been put together to provide insights in this regard. In the same vein, there isn’t feasible way of determining the trends around how businesses are communicating with their customers.
  • Vonage and Vitality is an example of a company that is leading this ’emerging trend.’ These companies have developed AI powered WhatsApp chatbot solutions for businesses to automate their direct customer communication and expand their reach on the billions of WhatsApp users.

Case Studies: WhatsApp Chatbot Campaigns / Customer Communications

  • There’s limited case studies on how UK brands have used to promote campaigns/products and communicate with customers. Coupled with the fact that WhatsApp Business or WhatsApp API was launched in 2018, research also suggests that the platform hasn’t fully caught on yet in the UK. Research into resources that curate digital case studies such a Digital Training Academy, offers only limited case studies in this regard.
  • Therefore, while the first case study sufficiently describes a campaign deployed on WhatsApp Chatbot in the UK, the second only demonstrates customer communication in the EU — an expanded scope to gather useful insights because of information unavailability.

Case Study #1: ‘100% Unfair Predator’ Campaign / ‘Rent-a-Pred’ Campaign by Adidas

  • “Adidas has been using the mobile messaging app to chat directly with customers since 2015. At the time, the app was seen by the company’s marketers as a way to build hyper-local communities in cities across the world.”
  • Deployed in London, Adidas opened up a hotline on WhatsApp for people in need of a footballer to cover for unreliable teammates on their team. Through this, “if a player cancels a match on short-notice, the understaffed football team simply writes a WhatsApp to the ‘Rent-a-Pred‘ WhatsApp hotline, answers a few basic questions about the location and time of the match and then finds out in the morning of the match day whether they will receive a ‘100% unfair support’ from a substitute player.”
  • These substitute players are Adidas-sponsored players who would usually turn up dressed in Adidas’ new Predator20 Mutator footwear and equipment. “Some of the best football players in the city were recruited to support the understaffed team in a ‘100% unfair way’ as Adidas-sponsored substitute footballers. The world star Kaká was also part of the substitute team!”
  • Adidas’ WhatsApp campaign has been promoted on all social media channels — WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Success Metrics

  • “According to the press release, the Rent-a-Pred players had a 92% win rate across all the games they participated in and contributed 29 goals. The clip of Kaka was featured on Sky News, Sky Sports News, ITV News bulletins and over sixty online publications; while on social platforms, the Kaka appearance reached over 5 million views during the campaign.”
  • Laura Coveney, managing editor for Adidas’ newsroom in London, revealed that WhatsApp allowed them to build direct relationships with a smaller community of influential people in an ongoing way that didn’t feel transactional and allowed for a conversation, rather than just a broadcast. WhatsApp was perfect for the more functional elements of the ‘Rent-a-Pred’ hotline as it allowed consumers to share private information one-to-one with Adidas for review, before being allocated a Predator player near them.”
  • The also company utilized the opportunity to advertize its new Predator20 Mutator footwear and equipment, as it marked the launch of product.
  • According to Social Searcher, the “Rent-a-Pred” keyword generated mostly neutral and positive sentiments among audience, with only 15% accounting for the negative sentiments.

Case Study #2: KLM Royal Dutch Airlines

  • KLM Royal Dutch Airlines is the flagship carrier of the Netherlands. Founded in 1919, it offers direct flight services to 162 destinations worldwide: 70 intercontinental and 92 European destinations including the UK.
  • “To remain innovative, KLM has always been quick to adopt new platforms to stay connected to people by finding new and efficient ways to proactively inform its customers about their flight details, as well as send them other pertinent information in a clear and direct manner.”
  • To achieve this, KLM opted to include WhatsApp as a communication channel to provide them with a superior service experience by integrating the WhatsApp Business API (chatbot). Through this, KLM could offer customers flight status updates and information about their boarding passes, travel details and booking confirmations. It was one of the first airlines to do so via WhatsApp.
  • “KLM also used WhatsApp to experiment with media messages, which contained unique graphics, animations and file attachments. To commemorate its centenary celebration in 2019, KLM designed a special logo to share with customers, and included the KLM 100 graphic in welcome messages and flight updates sent via WhatsApp to boost brand awareness.”

Success Metrics

  • By integrating the API, KLM was able to reach hundreds of thousands of customers with media messages featuring gate assignments and the KLM 100 logo. The campaign, which ran from August 3–September 10, 2019, achieved the following results: 186,364 welcome messages sent, 220,447 gate assignment messages sent, and 88% of all gate assignments sent via social media were sent by WhatsApp in first week of September 2019.”
  • According to Martine van der Lee, director of social media, he declared that “with WhatsApp, KLM could boost its brand and keep customers informed about their flight details in a non-intrusive manner. It was also able to successfully leverage media messages to beta-test its KLM 100 logo, which was seen by everyone using WhatsApp to communicate with the brand. “
  • There is limited information on how the audience received this campaign; however, Social Searcher, an sentiment analytical tool, shows that the general sentiment of the campaign is generall neutral (75%), less positive (25%) but not negative.

Key Competitors for Messaging Platforms

  • “According to the latest numbers on Statista (2020), WhatsApp is the most used messenger service in the UK, with 81% of the total, ahead of Facebook Messenger (75%), Snapchat (25%), and Skype (15%).
  • According to Messenger People, survey results show that the top regularly used messenger services in the UK include WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, Skype, and Discord.
  • According to Red Byte’s ’10 Best Free Messaging Apps for Android & iOS UK,’ the top four apps were WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Instagram and Twitter.
  • Also, according to Tom’s Guide UK, the best chat apps for 2020 include Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Houseparty, Viber, Slack, and others.
  • Compiling these potential key messaging platforms except for WhatsApp, the top three messaging platforms, based on the average monthly downloads in the past three months in the UK, are Snapchat (5.17 million), Facebook Messenger (4.799 million), and Instagram (4.301 million).

1. Snapchat

  • Snapchat lets users easily talk with friends, view Live Stories from around the world, and explore news in Discover.
  • “In January 2018, it was found that 77% of online respondents between the age of age 18 and 24 years stated that they are Snapchat users. Of 35 to 44 year old respondents, 38% were Snapchat users and only two percent of respondents aged 65 years or older were Snapchat users.”
  • “For the first time since its inception, SnapChat user base was projected to decline in 2019, according to eMarketer’s latest UK social usage forecast. Since the redesign of the platform in late 2017, users have been leaving in favor of Instagram and other competitors. In 2019, 14.5 million people in the UK were expected to use Snapchat, down 2.3% from the previous year. Usage was projected to continue in its decline through 2023, when it will drop to 14.1 million. In Q4 of 2019, 67 million UK daily active Snapchat users were recorded.
  • “In the first quarter of 2020, it was found that 63% of the respondents in the United Kingdom (UK) used Snapchat several times a day. A share of 15% of respondents said they used Snapchat once a day.” And by April of the same year, there were 15.88 million users in the UK – significantly

2. Facebook Messenger

  • “Messenger makes it easy and fun for users to stay close to their favorite people.”
  • In October 2018, “there were 29.76 million Messenger users in United Kingdom, which accounted for 44% of its entire population. People aged 25 to 34 were the largest user group (8 million). Also, the majority of these users were women (53.7%).
  • There were 28.97 million Messenger users in United Kingdom in January 2020, which accounted for 42.8% of its entire population. The majority of them were women (54.3%.)
  • People aged 25 to 34 were the largest user group (7.8 million) while the highest difference between men and women occurs within people aged 45 to 54, where women lead by 700,000.
  • “In November 2020, there were nearly 35.1 million Messenger users in the United Kingdom.”
  • Except for WhatsApp, 75% of adult Britons say that they used Facebook Messenger regularly, with 24.8% of those users being between 25 and 34 years of age.

3. Instagram

  • “Instagram provides a simple, fun, and creative way to capture, edit, and share photos, videos, and messages with friends and family.”
  • “There were 21.96 million Instagram users in the United Kingdom in April 2019, which accounted for 32.5% of its entire population. ” People aged 25 to 34 were the largest user group while the majority of them were women (56.2%).
  • By the start of year 2020, the numbers rose to 23.84 million Instagram users, which accounted for 35.3% of its entire population.
  • According to Statista, “there were 27.25 million Instagram users in the UK as of September 2020, with 30.5% of those users being between 25 and 34 years of age.
  • It further provided that 54% of the respondents in the United Kingdom (UK) used Instagram several times a day in the first quarter of 2020 while 12% of respondents reported using Instagram a few times a week.
Glenn is the Lead Operations Research Analyst at The Digital Momentum with experience in research, statistical data analysis and interview techniques. A holder of degree in Economics. A true specialist in quantitative and qualitative research.

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