The Functionalities of Success – A Psychological Exploration of Mobile Messenger Apps’ Success

13 Pages Posted: 29 Mar 2017 Last revised: 11 Nov 2017

See all articles by René Arnold

René Arnold

Wissenschaftliches Institut für Infrastruktur und Kommunikationsdienste; WIK-Consult GmbH

Anna Schneider

Hochschule Fresenius - University of Applied Sciences

Date Written: March 27, 2017


Mobile Messenger Apps (MMAs) such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, LINE, Signal or Snapchat enjoy impressive success worldwide. Since many of these applications are offered at no monetary cost, telecommunications providers have argued that consumers choose MMAs predominantly to save money. In light of consumers’ complementary and multi-homing use of MMAs, it seems unlikely that saving money can fully explain their success. Our paper draws on more than 60 semi-structured qualitative interviews with consumers to explore why they opt for MMAs, why they use them complementary to Electronic Communications Services (ECS) and why they use multiple MMAs at a time.

Specifically, our paper follows a grounded theory approach. It uses three rounds of interviews. The first round (20 interviews) established an initial understanding of relevant success factors of MMAs from a consumer perspective. The second round (24 interviews) focused on the role of technological seams enabling consumer to negotiate their social sphere. The third round of interviews (20 interviews) emphasized how functions not available with ECS may fulfill or thwart basic psychological needs (competence, relatedness and autonomy) as established in Self-Determination Theory (SDT).

Throughout the three rounds of interviews, it emerges that indeed saving costs is not a central motive for consumer to use MMAs. Additional functions such as (1) rich interaction using video chat, pictures, videos, etc.; (2) group chats; (3) awareness and notification functions; (4) voice messages; and (5) presentation of self e.g. via a profile picture provide better fulfillment of one’s basic psychological needs than ECS without these functions. Furthermore, our results show that both complementary use of ECS and MMAs as well as MMA multi-homing can be explained by consumers enacting competence in applying and decoding subtle social codes along the stages of stage models of relationship development.

In sum, our results highlight the relevance of additional and innovative functionalities of MMAs for their success. These functionalities generally help to fulfill consumers’ basic psychological needs better than SMS. Furthermore, consumers’ need fulfillment is supported by the opportunity to use various MMAs in parallel to adhere to a finely grained set of social codes associated with interpersonal communication. Hence policy and regulators should not interfere with the innovation paths of these applications as well as the technological seams that exist between them. For marketers, our results add further insights as regards potential targeting strategies for developing platform business models for MMAs.

Keywords: Mobile Messenger Apps, Consumer Behavior, Self-Determination Theory (SDT), Internet Policy, Telecommunications Regulation

Suggested Citation

Arnold, René and Schneider, Anna, The Functionalities of Success – A Psychological Exploration of Mobile Messenger Apps’ Success (March 27, 2017). Available at SSRN: or

René Arnold (Contact Author)

Wissenschaftliches Institut für Infrastruktur und Kommunikationsdienste ( email )

Rhöndorfer Str. 68
53604 Bad Honnef, 53604

WIK-Consult GmbH ( email )

Rhöndorfer Str. 68
Bad Honnef, 53604

Anna Schneider

Hochschule Fresenius - University of Applied Sciences ( email )

Limburger Str. 2
Idstein, 65510

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