bbmchannels.jpg
BlackBerry has introduced an updated version of its messaging app that makes the service a social network — but Android and iOS users will have to wait for the new features.

Owners of BlackBerry 10 and Blackberry 7 devices can use BlackBerry Messenger Service (BBM) to join in social media chat across channels and interact with people, brands, celebrities and communities. In the near future, the feature will also be extended to Android and iPhone users.

With massive user growth of BBM, is this a threat to the likes of Facebook or will others just mimic it as we move to a more mobile social landscape?

BlackBerry Tries to Engage Users

One of the struggling device maker's biggest assets is its BBM user base. It grew by more than 20 million users when the app arrived on iOS and Android, and is one of the key features on BlackBerry devices. The future of the company could rest on how it engages those users, and whether it figures out a way to leverage or monetize them.

Now open as part of a wider beta, and available to both BB7 and BB10 users, the Channels service is available through an update to the BBM app. When installed, it opens up a world of featured channels. Users can also search for topics of interest. Within a Channel, users can chat, post messages to forums or share pictures. Users can also create their own Channels and invite friends or others to join in.

BlackBerry hopes to attract brands and celebrities to build hype for the service. And with the increasingly mobile nature of social media, the company could be on the verge of defining new ways that brands and users interact beyond often staid Facebook pages or short-lived Twitter conversations.

If users want to start creating Channels without a BlackBerry device, they can do so via the Channels website, which allows users to create and post.

bbm_channels_app.jpg
But the full experience comes with the power of mobile. It is this shift that sees the likes of Facebook left out as it struggles to shift from the browser experience to the app for much beyond status updates between friends.

If Channels takes off in line with its growing user base, it could become a major player in social, following the BlackBerry tag of "Don't just follow, belong!" With an improved sense of engagement likely to see users become more active in getting their friends on board, it could make for an interesting shake up of social in 2014. 

Are you likely to join in the conversation, either on a BlackBerry device or when the update hits more popular mobile ecosystems? All it could take is a few big names on the service and some traction among the brands — and BlackBerry could have a major lifeline as it bids to transition into a service company or continues as a niche vendor, with a renewed cool appeal.