LINE: Japanese Chat App Spins Fun Visuals into Big Profits

Audience: 211 million monthly, active users

Top Markets: Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia, Spain

Demographics: Majority aged 16–34 years

Key Features: Free to use; multimedia file-sharing capability; works across all major mobile phone platforms and PCs; timeline news feed; official brand accounts with CMS and one daily push alert limit; stickers, coupons and games for free and paid.

LINE (the official trademark is capitalized) is a Japanese messaging app initially created in response to the Tokyo earthquake in 2011 as a means for employees of parent company NHN Japan to stay in touch. It was released to the public later in the year and experienced significant growth across the country and in the region, particularly in Thailand, Taiwan, and Indonesia.

It stands out as the most profitable messaging app on the market, with a recent App Annie report suggesting LINE as the most profitable of any app in June 2015.7 This is in large part due to its hugely popular games and stickers market, which drive roughly 60 percent and 20 percent of revenue, respectively. The company reported $656 million (JPY 86.3 billion) in gross revenue for 2014, far outpacing its competitors.8

LINE has official accounts for brands and publishers, offering them a dedicated CMS browser to create and manage daily push alerts and content on the account's home feed.

BuzzFeed Builds LINE Audience with Push Notifications, Stickers, and Comics

BBC News and the The Wall Street Journal are among the news organizations that have a million-plus subscribers to their LINE accounts, experimenting on different content models around video (BBC) and daily alerts and breaking news (The Wall Street Journal). BuzzFeed, a more recent entrant to the platform, has taken a very different approach.

Bryant Hua, associate social media editor at BuzzFeed, explained the company's thinking:

LINE is probably one of the most exciting messaging apps, because you can send global push messages, but there's also a feed on the home channel that you can publish to. We were more able to curate the channel in a BuzzFeed way. Comics are one of the big areas that we're pushing into—we have comics on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram—and this platform in particular seems to be a place where the audience is reacting well to them.

LINE has its own web browser-based CMS and provides the ability to schedule posts, which makes managing the account much more efficient.

The BuzzFeed channel rarely links back to its main website, a similar strategy that it employs on social media platforms, too. Hua added: “We have a more distributed strategy in 2015 and we're not totally focused on driving traffic back to the site, so we provide as much information with the feed as possible.”

One of the most effective ways to attract new subscribers on the platform (as is the case with several other chat apps) is by using stickers. BuzzFeed debuted its own sticker set, enabling LINE users to download them for free as long as they subscribed to the BuzzFeed channel. This helped BuzzFeed to acquire a following of over 200,000 within a few months of launch.

Screenshot showing BuzzFeed's new sticker set debut.

LINE also allows users to interact with content using emojis. Instead of clicking a “like” button, users can choose from a selection of six different emojis to express how they feel about a story or piece of content (Facebook began testing a similar approach called Reactions in October).9 Interactive polls and a commenting system also let users respond in text and with stickers, which Hua said is a unique way that LINE engages with audiences. A recent feature asked users to select the house from Harry Potter's Hogwarts which they most fit into; it was one of BuzzFeed's most engaged posts since the channel launched.

Screenshot showing another feature that asked users to select the house from Harry Potter's Hogwarts which they most fit into

Hua openly admitted that hard news hasn't particularly worked on the LINE channel—headline bulletins from the news apps team haven't generated much engagement like they do on some other social media channels.

The experience is in direct contrast with the LINE channels of BBC News and The Wall Street Journal. Both of these accounts passed the one-million-subscriber mark earlier this year. The difference in how audiences engage with news on their channels, compared to that of Buzzfeed's, is potentially attributable to subscribers' different expectations from the brands, with Buzzfeed more typically offering large slices of humor and viral memes alongside some news content.

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