Conversational Media | Defining a New Digital Medium

May 10, 2021

Conversational Media, by definition is:

“The various types of media leveraged in peer-to-peer messages to enable richer communications between two or more individuals on conversational platforms.”

Conversational Media enhances digital communication across a multitude of platforms that have messaging environments - from chat to dating to social. In today’s technology-driven world, people are reaching for content and media more than ever to add substance to chat happening between screens. Conversational Media tools are helping people communicate better digitally.

In this blog, we explore Conversational Media as an emerging medium including what it is, why it matters, and how it’s evolving. 

The Breadth of Messaging 

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that messaging is the most popular means of communication today. In the U.S. alone, over 78 million messages are being sent every minute. To put it into perspective, only 4.1 million Google searches and 1.3 million Facebook log-ins are happening in the same amount of time. We estimate that 100 trillion messages are sent every year (compare that to 1.8 trillion Google searches)! Clearly, people are having conversations in messaging environments more than they're doing anything else.

Yet historically, the messaging space has not evolved as quickly as other digital channels. We’ve seen significant advancements in short periods of time when it comes to the Internet, social media, and gaming - but for a long time, the native functionality in text messaging has remained basically the same since the first text was sent in 1992 - words and symbols on a screen.

People have had to go to great lengths to get the content they want to share into their messaging experience; in fact, 82% of Millennials say they need to exit their chats some or all of the time to find content for their conversations (Holler Media in Our Messages Report).

Why Messaging Environments Need Conversational Media

With messaging being such a predominant way to keep in touch comes the loss of something significant -- good old fashioned human interaction. So much of what is being said is typed on a keyboard, not expressed face-to-face, which subtracts body language and adds the risk of miscommunication and misunderstanding. 

How many times have you sent a text that was interpreted incorrectly or received a message that made your *jaw drop* because it sounded like the person was mad at you? (Raise your hand ✋ if you’ve ever been K’d. Yes, us too).

Because words on a screen don’t do a great job of conveying emotions and sentiment, people started coming up with creative ways to be more expressive. And so the :) was born. (You can learn more about the history of visual communication tools in this blog). But, as we became even more dependent on digital communication, we needed more content options that could convey feelings and meaning, but also get our point across, better than just a colon and a parenthesis.

Conversational Media Means the Right Content in the Right Moment

Conversational Media encompasses many different forms of content and media - from nostalgic songs shared between friends, to an animated sticker that expresses excitement, to a web link of a news article relevant to the conversation. It’s whatever you need to make the chat better, and it’s being used all the time.

As mentioned above, 82% of Millennials (and 78% of Gen Z) are exiting chat environments to search for content they want to include in their messages. This goes to show how important it is for people to have access to the right content at the right time, right within the messaging experience. And that’s our goal at Holler -- to provide people with the Conversational Media they need when they need it, so they don’t have to search all over the place just to bring content back into the chat.

Conversational Media vs. Social Media: What’s the Difference? 

“The various types of media leveraged in peer-to-peer messages to enable richer communications between two or more individuals on conversational platforms.”

The most significant difference between Conversational Media content and social media content is that Conversational Media enhances a conversation between two or more people in a private messaging environment, whereas social media is a one to many structure that elicits a larger group reaction. By nature, messaging is more intimate than social media, and it’s also where people are their most genuine selves.

In fact, 75% of people say they’re their most authentic selves in chat apps, as compared to 69% on social apps (Holler Media in Our Messages Report).

In messaging, you’re usually chatting with your nearest and dearest friends and family; on social media, you likely have a number of followers you’ve probably never met IRL. Since Conversational Media is shared in this intimate messaging environment, what is being shared is oftentimes more authentic and holds greater weight among the people involved in the chat. This makes it an important tool to help fuel the conversations that mean the most. 

People Agree - Content in Messaging is Key 

The importance of Conversational Media in messaging isn’t just our own hypothesis. We’ve surveyed numerous people to gauge their opinion on the need for content in chat. And they agree - it’s essential to chat. 

Based on our recent survey data in our Media in Our Messages Report, 50% of Millennials and 49% of Gen Z say they use content in messaging all the time. 

All types of media is being shared in the DMs:

stats about media in messages


The top 3 reasons people choose to share content in messaging are because:

the reasons people share content in messaging

In hoping to improve the quality of the conversation with everyone involved, people reach for content and media all the time in messaging. 

And content isn’t always something that’s tacked onto a message to convey a point or land a joke. Sometimes the content actually sparks the conversation - especially in environments like social media DMs. 

An Observational Study About Conversational Media Usage

In a recent observational study, we analyzed how people utilize media in messaging and found some interesting trends; depending on the environment, content is either the spark that inspires conversation or the support that an already-existing conversation needs to continue.

Check out these two different real-life examples: 

Conversation as the Spark

In this chat environment (like iMessage, SMS, or hobby-specific app) the conversation is already flowing, but media and content is helping to deepen the chat and expand upon it:

Content as the Spark

In this DM environment (like a Twitter or Instagram DM) someone saw content while scrolling through their feed and were inspired to send it to a friend. From there, a conversation ensued based on the content. 

The role Conversational Media plays in messaging environments relies heavily on what type of app is being used, but it is just as important in both situations. 

COVID-19 Sent Conversational Media into Overdrive

We relied heavily on messaging before COVID, but the pandemic only increased its necessity. In fact, our survey revealed that 88% of people message the same amount or more than they did before the pandemic (Holler Media in Our Messages Report).

As people practiced social distancing and quarantining, unable to meet face-to-face with family and friends for months, they kept in touch through messaging, phone calls, video chats, and social media. The need to make these conversations more exciting was apparent, especially on the Holler platform.

At the beginning of the pandemic in the U.S., we saw a surge in messaging on our platform; message volume was up 30% in March.

Content was also being shared like crazy - and relevant expressive stickers were even more heavily used, as people shared well wishes and hopefulness during an unprecedented time. 

We also saw the rise in popularity of social entertainment apps as people aimed to connect with each other and stay entertained in new and creative ways. Although social media posting decreased because people weren’t traveling as much or attending events, the scroll remained strong, with users spending more time checking out their feeds and engaging in chat in the DMs. 

Conversational Media Usage: A Sign of the Times 

The sharing of relevant content is a practice that reaches far beyond COVID-related chat. Tentpole events, holidays, and culturally relevant topics all influence the types of content being shared on the Holler platform and beyond. 

Conversational Media is a fresh and unique medium that not only allows people to express themselves better in chat, but helps them have more meaningful conversations about relevant and timely topics.

The Future of Conversational Media

Conversational Media shows no signs of slowing down, and has only accelerated in use throughout the past year. Media and content have become an intrinsic part of messaging environments and will continue to be useful to digital conversations. 

We’re confident in Conversational Media’s ability to bridge the gap between digital interaction and human connection. Conversational Media already takes on many forms - from stickers and GIFs to links and games- but, it will only continue to evolve to include more intuitive and interactive ways to keep in touch.

To learn more about Conversational Media and its role in digital chat, check out our Holler 2021 Media in Our Messages Report

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