close up of a person's hand holding their phone with whatsapp open
PHOTO: Dimitri Karastelev | unsplash

With billions of monthly users, private messaging apps have become a huge opportunity for marketers over the last few years. Billions of opportunities every month within what many now refer to as microbrowsers, those little mini-mobile previews served up by the URL being shared in messaging apps like iMessage, Slack and WhatsApp.

I like to think of these dark social opportunities as the marketing gold brands can’t see. Dark social describes the “invisible” shares, or referral traffic, that happen through channels like messengers, but also email and text messages. And whether you can see a referral or not, you should be doing everything you can to ensure all content is presented and viewed in the best, most engaging way possible.

We saw a notable shift in this traffic during our data analysis for our annual State of Visual Media report, including an increased reliance on Slack beyond work hours, relying on the messaging platform earlier in the morning and into the evenings and on Saturdays. With this tremendous growth, there’s now a big push for marketers to understand the power of these small but mighty microbrowsers. In learning how content is shared among peers via these channels, marketers can have confidence they’re making the most of their digital content.

The Power of the Microbrowser

Even though social media started as communication platforms, they’ve mimicked browsers over time, effectively functioning as microbrowsers, without the coding required for developing real browsers. When links are sent, the messaging app goes to the URL, fetches the HTML, and pulls requests before presenting a preview of the webpage.

Within these microbrowsers, friends, colleagues and family members are sharing links to news articles, retail products, entertaining media, and other commentaries. When these links are shared, miniature previews of a brand’s site pop up, offering a small glimpse of the experience awaiting on the other side of a clickthrough. It’s the perfect opportunity to make a great first impression.

What’s more, word-of-mouth remains one of the most effective and natural marketing drivers. The person who shares a link to a loved one has already qualified that potential lead, and in doing so has become a champion of your brand. People trust people more than they trust brands. We know this. That’s why microbrowsers are so valuable — and brands who optimize their content in a way that performs and previews well in a microbrowser will earn more clicks and engagement.

Related Article: Best Practices for Improving Your Dark Social Engagement

Making That Best First impression

To correctly optimize content for microbrowsers, marketers must first identify which microbrowsers are popular among a customer base and in a given industry. For example, for brands who are reaching international audiences, the microbrowsers that generated the most traffic include iMessage, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Slack and Snapchat, in that order. In the media industry, Facebook Messenger is the clear No. 1 platform for sharing images and videos, confirming the important role Facebook continues to play for news distribution.

After deciding which messaging platforms will reach their target audience, marketers can optimize links accordingly by:

  • Annotating everything: Brands should upgrade the HTML markups on all their pages with micro-data, including titles, descriptions and images for links. The title length should be limited to 10 words and the descriptions should be limited to 240 characters each. To avoid confusion, only one favicon should be annotated.       
  • Posting unfurl images, nano-stories or animated GIFs: A great way to entice the audience to seek more details is to spotlight content with a compelling image. Brands can assign the image with a unique name to track the number of click throughs, which in turn will give great insight into the number of visitors the microbrowser impression has attracted.
  • Ensuring fast performance: Latency issues may occur for microbrowsers due to performance-related concerns. Brands should post images and videos of a small footprint for efficient loading.
  • Catering to all microbrowsers: Microbrowsers render links differently from one another depending on several different factors. Brands must ensure that their content satisfies these various requirements.

By following these tips, marketers can be confident they are reaching the right people and optimizing their microbrowser content to deliver maximum impact. 

Related Article: Social Media Trends to Consider in Your 2021 Marketing Strategy

Growth of Messaging Apps Means More Microbrowser Traffic

Mobile devices generated 54.8% of global website traffic in the first quarter of 2021, and an estimated 3.09 billion mobile phone users accessed messaging apps to communicate and engage with people and brands. As well, mobile data traffic will grow seven-fold from 2016 to 2021 globally, a compound annual growth rate of 46%. This rise in mobile traffic highlights the growing importance of content shared in microbrowsers.

These are highly valuable referrals that can play a significant role in increasing engagement and overall revenue. Marketers who amplify the performance of their microbrowsers and make it a key part of their overall strategy will see clear benefits, including a strong increase in engagement and revenue.