Ahhh Blackberry Messenger, never has a service been so popular but also so massively misunderstood.

Over the past couple of years the service has seems to have developed this slight air of mystery about why ‘youths’ are so crazy about it. People outside looking in always have the same questions, “What’s the big deal…isn’t it just instant messenger like MSN?” or “Why do I need BBM when I get unlimited text messages for free?”.

It’s tricky to explain, I really think some of the biggest incentives to use BBM just don’t work across every demographic. It’s one of those things where you have to be in a environment which would make BBM appeal to you, I mean you have to like instant messaging for a start but I mean things like constant banter between mates in group convos, speaking to friends and family abroad for free, going out and exchanging details with other people, broadcasting daft jokes and pictures etc.

Essentially BBM is extremely well implemented, simple mobile instant messaging application that only works between Blackberry devices. However it has subtle differences that makes it better than any third party IM applications out there. In fact it’s more like a private social network than a instant messaging app…one with over 50 million users.

Blackberry users had traditionally been a older demographic but BBM has changed the perception of the device rapidly. Now it’s in the hand of every teenager because of Blackberry Messenger and you can see RIM have wised up to this, promoting BBM in all their latest ad campaigns without a suit in sight.

Here are some of the reasons why it’s so popular:

  • The messages are free globally because everyone is on a compulsory Blackberry data tariff in their own country. Images, files and voice notes that you send to contacts is also free (not while roaming of course)
  • It is installed on every Blackberry device as standard
  • You can add someone as a contact without revealing your actual mobile number (useful in clubs)
  • You can see when someone is typing and when a message is delivered and read
  • You can change your status (this is used very often), avatar and availability
  • You get on-screen notifications and sounds when a message comes through. Different types of message get their own icon on the status bar.
  • You can invite multiple contacts into a chat, even if they aren’t friends with each other
  • It’s always on, running in the background eating up very very little battery. All messages go through RIM’s servers and are pushed to the phone in the same way emails are. This means battery consumption compared to something like mobile MSN (which has a constant data connection) is very low.
  • Even if you don’t have reception you can still use BBM, the messages get queued until you get back in signal
  • You can have a flowing conversation with someone, feels more easy and natural than SMS
  • You can set up Groups where members can share pictures, calendar entries, all without being on each others contact lists.
  • It’s integrated into the rest of the phone really well, for example you can select a image from your gallery, press options and ‘send to Blackberry Messenger’ without being in the app
  • Girls and their mates have BBM which of course means…yep, boys want to have it too. Don’t underestimate this one.

I got my first Blackberry two years ago after a few of my mates owned them and raved about how great BBM was and that everyone now had one. In the beginning I resisted after taking one look at the Blackberry interface and dismissing it as a huge pile of shit. Two years after purchasing it hasn’t disappointed me, the Blackberry is one of the worse phones I’ve ever used, the audacity for it to be priced in the same bracket as some top-end Android handsets astounds me.

Despite all that I still carry the bloody thing around. Why? Simple – BBM.

It says a lot about a service that I’m willing to put up with all the other crap, the slow, grainy camera that always misses the moment, the browser that repulses me from browsing the web and the GPS that takes so long I always miss the correct road turning.

I now have enough friends that use BBM that it makes it difficult to leave, I have 40 close friends that use it compared to 8 on Twitter. It’s a bit like being locked into Facebook because all your mates are there. I wholeheartedly believe that Apple/HTC/Samsung will start looking at creating their own version and snatch users away from RIM.

BBM is truely the jewel in Blackberry’s lame-ass crown. So how can it be used for mobile marketing?

Well you can pretty much share whatever you want, offers, coupons, movie trailers, news, customer support, polls, questionnaires, music clips, drive traffic to links, create a community around a product or event, even create UGC campaigns asking users to send stuff to you like images and video.

BBM users have the potential to be a very active and engaged audience if done right. The key is shaping your campaign around this functionality.

Let’s quickly go over a couple of basics:

1) There is no platform or CMS for BBM, everything has to be done on the device.

2) Don’t just assume your Twitter/Facebook strategy will work for BBM Marketing, try and differientiate by adding value and incentive (for example treating it like a VIP club). There is absolutely no way I would let a brand onto my BBM contact list just for news updates, give me more.

3) Someone literally has to sit there and type in promotions, links, responses etc directly into the phone so you set out your objectives and strategy beforehand to the person/team handling the phone.

4) If you don’t tell people about what you’re doing they won’t find you. BBM doesn’t have a search engine or appear in Google, make sure you spread the word about your campaign.

There is only two ways you can do any sort of marketing on BBM, either by inviting people to add you as single profile or setting up a group for them to join. Both are slightly different but because groups can only hold 30 people max it makes them a bit pointless for marketing so I won’t cover them.

Here’s the details:

Single profile

This method is literally the same as if you were a normal user, you tell people your BBM contact details (each device has a unique 8-digit PIN which you give to people so they can add you) and then start accepting friend requests. The maximum amount of friends you can have on BBM is 3500 (or 5500 but it then becomes unstable). This might seem like a deal breaker but it’s all about how you go about positioning your BBM campaign.

Once you have contacts you are able to send and receive messages. There are a few useful tools to make marketing a bit easier:

Broadcast Message – This blasts a message out to every single contact on your BBM, it’s plain text but urls are clickable so it can contain links to external websites, audio, video or coupons etc. Used wisely it can be very affective at driving users to a destination, obviously it also can piss a lot of people off if you do it too often so get the balance between user benefit and objectives right.

Status updates – A function regularly used by BBM users, as you would expect this updates your status and puts it on the ‘Activity Feed’ of your contacts. Very handy if you don’t want to broadcast but are trying to drive users to a URL or update them with news.

Status Updates on Blackberry Messenger

Profile picture – This might sound silly but your profile picture on BBM can be a great way to draw attention, whenever it is changed a new event is created in the Activity Feed so everyone will see if it’s a flyer/promo/offer etc.

QR Code – BBM generates a QR Code for each profile which can be read by the in-built QR Code reader within the app. This can be used instead of giving out your PIN number for friend requests. You can export the code as a image and use it whenever you like!

Of course you have all the 1-to-1 IM features too, so you can respond to messages from individual contacts.

Here’s some examples I knocked up just to get you thinking:

BBM has a huge amount of potential and isn’t really being used for marketing by agencies or brands. I think it’s due to a general lack of understanding about what it is and how it works.

One thing to bear in mind that last year RIM announced that they would be realising a BBM API early 2011 so when that happens you should be prepared with how you are going to utilise what is effectively a social network with over 50 million users.

I expect to see a ‘share on BBM’ button to join the ones you see for Twitter, Facebook, Digg etc.