BlackBerry is ramping up BlackBerry Channels and it looks like it’s going to be the monetization tool for BBM. While WhatsApp charges $0.99 per year, it seems BlackBerry is going to find an alternative monetization strategy by leveraging brands and possibly advertising in the BBM Channels network. Perhaps this has nothing to do with monetization, but that’s our best guess and we’re sticking to it. So what is it going to take for BBM Channels to be a successful cross-platform content network? Read on.
BBM Channels is the secret weapon that BlackBerry has to make cross-platform BBM a success for the company. In order to succeed from a consumer’s perspective, it has to satisfy some pretty basic features that the average user expects in order to make an app successful. Those features include:
1) Engagement – The user should be opening the app and get presented with daily, new content. Think about that moment when a user is on the bus, saying to themselves, “what’s new on BBM?”. There needs to be a central spot for this content. Currently, the app isn’t really set up like that. When you open the BBM Channels section, you’re presented with Featured Channels which is largely content you don’t care about as it’s not tailored to you at all. It takes tapping the “updates” section or two taps to view content you have subscribed to. Like any popular content app (eg Twitter, Facebook, Instagram), the app should launch directly into a curated feed of content you care about that’s refreshed as often as possible. This creates a daily engagement loop with the app that’s critical for success.
2) Simplicity – BBM Channels is unnecessarily complicated. Just take the button and menu layout for example. There are 2 rows of buttons and it’s not clear what each icon represents. Along the top row, there’s BBM Channels related icons and navigation. While you’re browsing BBM Channels, there’s also BBM navigation icons. Clicking the “updates” icon, which by the way is a “refresh” icon which is misleading, leads you to status updates that is a mashup of BBM friends and Channel updates. It’s very confusing and the whole chaos seems to stem from BlackBerry smashing two different apps into one without really separating or unifying them properly.
Another important element of simplicity, which is currently evading BBM Channels, is channel adding is more like Pins than it is Handles. Handles are easy to remember. For example, on twitter, I can talk to someone and add them without having to even ask for clarification. It’s simple. BBM pins on the other hand don’t make any sense for the average user and BlackBerry needs to simplify this process. At the very least, ubiquitous linking needs to be implemented as I can’t even click a Channel from App World and instead have to write the Pin down somewhere which isn’t going to happen.
3) Friends – When BBM goes cross-platform, we’re going to see an explosion of use across friends. Finally, you’ll be able to message your friends from one app, and your contacts will be stored in the cloud. This is going to be an important part of making this app a success, and with BBM’s Groups, your contacts are all going to be nicely laid out and navigation will be simple. Let’s just hope that the process of adding friends is going to adhere to the simplicity route. Ideally, I’d like to invite all my facebook, twitter and LinkedIn contacts to BBM with a couple taps. BlackBerry needs to ditch it’s Pin system as it’s a thing of the past and it’s a terrible system for ease of use.
If BBM Channels is going to be a success for brands and publishers, it will need to develop key features in order to keep audiences engaged, as well as monetize content. Here are some thoughts on BBM Channels from a publisher perspective:
1) Content needs to be engaging – Any time you post content on BBM Channels, your subscribers have the option to “Thumbs Up”, and comment. There’s threaded replies and everything you need to really engage with your community. Publishers on BBM Channels can also see who is viewing the content, but there doesn’t seem to be any way to directly engage with those users. It’s not a huge deal and BBM Channels seems to have everything a brand would need to engage with its community.
2) Rich Media – Currently, you can share a lot in terms of links, pictures and more, but adding the ability to share video and PowerPoint would go a long way to making the content more enjoyable. Even if it’s just embedded YouTube and SlideShare that works in the feed with no exiting the app.
3) Analytics – Currently, the analytics that BBM Channel owners get is pretty limited but at least it’s there. If BlackBerry really wants to kick ass in analytics, it just needs to follow Facebook’s Page Admin Analytics to get a sense of what community managers need.
It’s worth noting that Maxim, a key partner, signed up and posted quite a bit, but doesn’t seem to have posted anything in the last month. This is a sign that BBM Channels need to do more of the above in order to reduce friction in adding content, increase ease of sharing as well as engagement throughout the platform.
Being a beta product, there are still some bugs and performance issues to be fixed but that’s to be expected. It’s the big moves and features that we’re more concerned with.
Let’s assume BBM Channels becomes successful and hits the 100M user mark. What then? How does BlackBerry monetize this content? Brands would pay for additional subscribers and enterprise could pay for a customized solution. It probably wouldn’t amount to the kind of money that hardware sales would bring in, but it would provide BlackBerry with a daily way of reaching Android and iOS users. It could be a force for change when you have 10M people’s update of “loving my new BlackBerry” or “pic taken from my Z10″ in their feeds.
It’s also worth thinking about BBM Channels and BBM being its own company entirely. We’ve heard rumors of BlackBerry taking the company apart and selling it off in pieces. If that’s the case, there is likely a company out there that would be interested in a cross-platform content network with brands and millions of users. If that’s the case, BBM Channels is a very smart, and strategic move for the platform.