“The chat is sacred.”
This has been the message from BlackBerry since it first revealed its sponsored content plans for BBM, and the message was reinforced yesterday during a briefing detailing its specific implementation. David Proulx, BlackBerry’s Senior Director of BBM Business Development told us that BBM’s sponsored content will not not be allowed to disrupt users’ chat experience. “Nothing will compromise the core utility of BBM, and that’s conversation,” he said.
In many ways, sponsored content was an inevitability as BBM grew beyond a simple messaging app. BBM’s fundamental identity dictates that all user relationships are mutually authenticated to keep connections intimate and eliminate spam (broadcast messages aside). Channels was designed to add social serendipity around these closed networks, allowing users to make new friends based upon common interests. Sponsored content allows brands a certain (paid) serendipity as well, offering them the ability to connect with BBM users potentially interested content. The trick is to integrate sponsored content in a way that doesn’t break that sacred loop of mutual interest, and it appears that BlackBerry has succeeded.
Sponsored content in BBM appears in three formats: sponsored posts in the Updates tab, sponsored invites on the Invites tab, and featured placement on the Featured Channels tab. In each format, BlackBerry has taken steps to ensure that the user isn’t overwhelmed with sponsored content they don’t want to see. For example, BlackBerry is limiting the amount of sponsored invites and frequency to no more than three invites per user per month. Within the updates tab, where a brand can ask a user to subscribe to its channel and provide a link to a coupon or app download, users can ‘ignore’ an ad with a simple button press, never to see content from that brand again. BlackBerry will curate which brands have access to the Featured Channels, and all content will be geo-targeted, so BBM users in Spain could see ads for FC Barcelona rather than Toronto FC.
Sponsored content in BBM appears in three formats: sponsored posts in the Updates tab, sponsored invites on the Invites tab, and featured placement on the Featured Channels tab.
BlackBerry’s approach to content targeting is also measured, and a bit of a relief for users concerned with the ever-growing encroachment from social networks into our privacy. BlackBerry said that all data used for targeting will be explicitly opt-in for the user, based upon aforementioned location data but also other brand content you have engaged with. Reinforcing the message that the “chat is sacred,” BlackBerry’s head of Product Marketing Jeff Gadway explained that no user data will be scraped from within the chat screen. “You will not be talking with a friend about Starbucks and suddenly see an ad for Starbucks show up in your chat window,” he said.
A note for brands: BlackBerry will be providing two web-based desktop tools to help brands engage with their followers, one at the consumer level, and one Proulx indicated would be “enterprise grade.” In addition, the next few months will see an API released from BlackBerry to allow 3rd party social media platforms (think HooteSuite) to integrate with BBM. We’ll have more information on these tools from BlackBerry soon.
In some ways, brand adoption of sponsored content is as important as user adoption for BlackBerry. I ask Proulx why brands would choose to commit time and resources to BBM over other larger social networks where they already have a social footprint. “Traditional social channels have been characterized by a need to improve organic engagement. As yet on BBM channels we don’t have that problem,” he said, allaying concerns that brands would eventually have to commit spend just to get in front of their followers, something that has greatly diminished the value of Facebook followers. “We don’t think paying should equate to organic reach,” Proulx continued. “We believe that paying equates to creating a richer or more engaging experience that carries additional sophistication.” Proulx indicated that BlackBerry has some “things in the queue” that will allow brands to enrich that relationship with users. For now, it’s enough that BlackBerry is ensuring that brands can’t ruin it.
Disclosure: I used to work at BlackBerry from 2009-2011 and know Jeff Gadway well. He used to say ‘the chat is sacred’ back then, too.