WhatsApp rival Viber launches branded accounts for companies and public figures

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Social media giant Viber announced Wednesday the launch of a new ‘Public Accounts’ service for brands, celebrities and other public figures. The announcement was made in Lisbon on the sidelines of Web Summit 2016.

“On Viber, people already connect securely and freely with their families, friends and colleagues. Today, we are introducing a way for people to start connecting with businesses, too,” Viber COO Michael Shmilov said in a press release. “The first set of tools will enable businesses to reach their audience on Viber using messaging and rich interfaces, which can be tailored to the various needs of any business.”

Branded accounts make total sense to communicate with big name companies with general or even specific consumer questions about products or services. In terms of celebrities, it might not be immediately obvious to people but self-promotion for personalities has become big business.

“They will also be able to use the one-on-one chat for various purposes — from selling merchandise and tickets to answering fans (like AMA sessions) — depending on the type of relationship they want to create with their audience,” Shmilov conveyed to Geektime.

“The whole idea of Public Accounts is that each account owner can create an experience for their audience that is tailored to their needs. We already have lots of solutions available, and we plan to add more and more, one of which being video sessions,” he noted.

An example of the Public Account from Viber, released November 2016 (courtesy)
An example of the Public Account from Viber, released November 2016 (courtesy)

Viber currently claims 800 million unique registered users globally, though only a third (still, 267 million) are active. They are bullish that they will continue to thrive on Viber’s messaging abilities, particularly in Russia, the Philippines, Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe.

But it’s hard not to notice that they’re trying to keep up with other developments from big competitors. Facebook’s introduction of Facebook Live and upgrade of Facebook Messenger for customer service purposes (incorporating chatbots, for example), parallels Viber’s effort here to serve brands’ needs in addressing audiences, something Shmilov acknowledged: “We are, of course, aware of what’s going on in our field, but we take pride in crafting the best possible solution based on what we believe is the most suitable experience for people using Viber.”

Viber is working through a number of so-called “enabling partners,” or outside chat providers who will facilitate direct communication via Viber between Public Account holders and audiences/customers. Those include smooch.io, JivoChat, JivoSite, Omnidesk, oratio, and Sequel. And on that point, Shmilov said the floor is open for more partners.

“We already have a more than a dozen solutions for integration, and it’s extremely easy to connect with any of them. We are, of course, welcoming developers to approach us and become enabling partners and influence the way hundreds of millions of people communicate every day,” he relayed.

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