TPRC45 has ended
Back To Schedule
Friday, September 8 • 9:34am - 10:07am
The Functionalities of Success- A Psychological Exploration of Mobile Messenger Apps' Success

Sign up or log in to save this to your schedule, view media, leave feedback and see who's attending!

Feedback form is now closed.
Mobile Messenger Apps (MMAs) such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, LINE, Signal or Snapchat enjoy impressive success worldwide. Since many of these applications are offered at no monetary cost, telecommunications providers have argued that consumers choose MMAs predominantly to save costs. In light of consumers’ complementary and multi-homing use of MMAs, it seems unlikely that saving money can fully explain their success. Our paper draws on more than 60 semi-structured qualitative interviews with consumers to explore why they opt for MMAs, why they use them complementary to Electronic Communications Services (ECS) and why they use multiple MMAs at a time.

Specifically, our paper follows a grounded theory approach. It uses three rounds of interviews. The first round (20 interviews) established an initial understanding of relevant success factors of MMAs from a consumer perspective. The second round (24 interviews) focused on the role of technological seams enabling consumer to negotiate their social sphere. The third round of interviews (20 interviews) emphasized how different functionalities may fulfill or thwart basic psychological needs (competence, relatedness and autonomy) as established in Self-Determination Theory (SDT).

Throughout the three rounds of interviews, it emerges that indeed saving costs is not a central motive for consumer to use MMAs. Additional functionalities enabling richer communication are the strongest drivers of MMAs success. In particular, group chats, awareness and notification as well as presentation of self functionalities was found to fulfill consumers’ psychological needs of competence, relatedness and autonomy better than texting via Short Message Service (SMS). Furthermore, our results show that both complementary use of ECS and MMAs as well as MMA multi-homing can be explained by consumers enacting subtle social codes along the stages of stage models of relationship development. During the Orientation Stage, consumers either use Instagram, Tinder or Lovoo to make new contacts or rely on SMS and email used for weak ties. Facebook (Messenger) echoes consumers’ requirement for a balanced presentation of selected intimate information required in the Exploratory Affective Stage. At the Affective Stage Snapchat and WhatsApp are favored by consumers due to their various functionalities enabling crafting social messages to start to disclose actually intimate information. Once the Stable Stage is reached, rich communication features offered by Skype and similar apps are most relevant to enact even the most subtle social codes in rich interactions.

In sum, our results highlight the relevance of additional and innovative functionalities of MMAs for their success. These functionalities generally help to fulfill consumers’ basic psychological needs better than SMS. Furthermore, consumers’ need fulfillment is supported by the opportunity to use various MMAs in parallel to adhere to a finely grained set of social codes associated with interpersonal communication. Hence policy and regulators should not interfere with the innovation paths of these applications as well as the technological seams that exist between them. For marketers, our results add further insights as regards potential targeting strategies for developing platform business models for MMAs.


Debra Berlyn

President, Consumer Policy Solutions

avatar for René Arnold

René Arnold

WIK and Bruegel


Friday September 8, 2017 9:34am - 10:07am EDT
ASLS Hazel Hall - Room 221