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Viber unveils Public Chats with Rolling Stone & Pixie Lott on board as it looks to stand out in 'jostling market'

Mobile communications app Viber has set its sights on the social media market with the launch of Public Chats, a feature that lets users interact and share content and conversations on their phones as it looks to stand out in a “jostling marketplace”.

Brands and celebrities including Rolling Stone, Pixie Lott, Perez Hilton, WWF and Next Models have signed up to the platform, which is currently in beta, to share images, stories and information with Viber users.

Mark Hardy, chief marketing officer of Viber, told The Drum that the desire to create Public Chats came out of the urge to take the app "to the next level", but in a way that didn’t ape current social platforms such as Twitter.

“It’s a bit of a social experiment,” he said. “You’re creating a platform, you’re giving people the tools to do this and I have a lot of conversations explaining to people why this is not another Twitter, it’s very different. When you’re looking at trying to manage a brand and engage people on a platform that is so congested right now, what we’re offering is a different experience to Twitter.

“With Twitter I’m constantly getting bombarded by tweets in short characters and I’m not getting much more than the actual tweet itself. This is a conversation between two or three people or up to 100 people, so when it comes to Next Models they want to treat this like a mobile soap opera.”

Hardy argued that Viber is “quite different” from rival apps Snapchat and Skype whose offering is “more limited” and said that while he likes to keep an eye on the competition, Viber has forged its own way in moulding the app into a social entertainment platform.

“Some of our features are similar of course, like making a phone call for free is similar to Skype for example, but video calling for free at HD quality is quite different to the Skype app. So everyone is jostling in the market and the market is really vibrant right now.”

Viber also plans to launch a free gaming offer towards the end of the year, and both ventures come following the acquisition of the app by e-commerce giant Rakuten which hopes to leverage Viber’s 460 million global users to reach a younger, mobile audience.

At the moment only brands and celebrities can set up a Public Chats in a move aimed at “setting the bar high” in terms of content, but the eventual plan is to switch the app so that anyone can set up a public chat.

Revenue streams will come from branded ‘stickers’, whereby a brand will be able to pay Viber on a cost per download basis but give the sticker free to users, in what Hardy called a “native advertising, meets product placement, meets promotional spend” model.

Hae stressed that Viber will steer clear of any pop-up ads and keep any data it collects on users for its own use to push out targeted content.

The road map going forward is to bump up its monthly active users and retain and engage those that have already signed up to the app.

“Next year is the year of retention,” Hardy said. “We have about 200 million users a month but we’ve got a registered active user base of 460 million. So I want that number up… Let’s get them [users] spending more time with us and [have Viber] become known for more than the app that you use to make phone calls.”

Hardy added that Viber’s long-term ambition is to build a global brand and become “the number one app”.

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