Messaging apps have been able to keep people in touch, businesses on track, and communities together throughout this turbulent year.

We caught up with Viber’s Noya Polliack to learn more about how Viber has been using messaging for good, and the marketing mix the team uses to build strong connections with users.


It’s been an important year for messaging apps. As much of the world’s population was placed under lockdown, it became clear just how much we rely on apps to keep us connected with loved ones. Viber is a prime example: founded in the tech hub of Tel Aviv in 2010, the company has quickly grown into one of the world’s most popular messaging apps — currently counting over 1 billion registered users.

The company started by offering free international high-quality calls, and later added messaging with an emphasis on security and community. Privacy is at the core of the app’s value proposition, and all private chats, video and voice calls on Viber are end-to-end encrypted by default. Community is another central tenet, with a feature that allows brands, celebrities and users to create their own public channels around a specific topic — from sports teams to favorite books.

This focus on community has never been more important. For this issue, LTV had the pleasure of sitting down with Noya Polliack, Director, Global CRM & Marketing Growth at Rakuten Viber to learn about how Viber took decisive steps to help users during the pandemic. She tells us how the company made it easier and safer for users to connect to each other without physically being in the same place. Beyond the lessons of 2020, we also spoke about the channels Viber uses to keep engagement high, and how close cross-functional teams and collaboration is key to innovation.

It’s been a tough year for many businesses — how has Viber been affected, and how did users’ relationship with the app change throughout the crisis?

We’re fortunate that Viber has been one of the lucky businesses. Our app is all about connecting people and allowing users to stay in touch with friends or family whether they’re near or far. As lockdown measures came into place all over the world, users turned to our platform more and more to help them stay connected.

We saw positive trends in terms of all key metrics — with big increases in daily and weekly active users, increased frequency of views, and increased use of specific features, such as groups or communities. User behavior also changed significantly, and we saw people utilizing features and platforms in a different way than before — so more group chats, more group audio calls and more calls in general. Our desktop user base also grew exponentially.

Viber very quickly brought out several new features to engage and educate users on the crisis. Could you tell us more about how your product and marketing teams addressed the changing circumstances?

We realized pretty early on we would have to shift focus immediately, so we put our evergreen and seasonal campaigns aside and instead looked at how we could provide added value to users during that time. Some of these were on the product-side — for example, we doubled the maximum participants for Viber group calls to 20 people. We also partnered with the World Health Organization (WHO) to fight misinformation through an interactive chatbot. Users could subscribe to the chatbot to get notifications with the latest news and information on the pandemic as well as donating to the WHO in-app.

In most cases, the initiatives or campaigns we ran weren’t even about prompting a specific action in-app — it was simply about using messaging to do good. Campaigns were mostly built around encouraging users to stay at home, or reminding them to regularly wash their hands. We saw great traction on that strategy, and a lot of users tweeting and thanking us for taking positive action. It was a huge effort that required a lot of quick turnarounds, but we felt it was essential to contribute to the conversation and do what we could to help.

We’re working hard to simplify its automation — creating workarounds to make the automation of campaigns a bit simpler to do.

That’s something we do a lot within the team: investing the time upfront so we can be more efficient in the long run.

What channels does Viber use to interact with customers, and how do you measure their success?

Email and our native format are two of our most successful channels. We launched our email channel less than a year ago and we’ve found it to be very effective, especially with already highly-engaged customers. Importantly, we only send emails to users who say they want to receive emails from Viber. That helps us receive very high open and click rates in comparison to industry benchmarks, with unique open rates reaching over 50%. We also have very good rates of conversions to the action prompted within the email itself.

The second format is one we developed ourselves, which has the look and feel of being native. It’s centered around messages that you receive from Viber in a chat, just as you would from any other user, and it can be coupled with or without a push notification. We’ve discovered a lot of benefits to the channel because it’s perceived as native by the user, but it also remains on the user’s device (unlike push notifications, which disappear after you tap on it). It’s not that easy to execute because it’s not easily integrated with third-party marketing automation platforms, but it’s worth it because it outperforms many other formats we use.

We’re working hard to simplify its automation — creating workarounds to make the automation of campaigns a bit simpler to do. That’s something we do a lot within the team: investing the time upfront so we can be more efficient in the long run. And that’s all motivated by ROI. I know how much time it takes to set up a campaign today, but we also envision other, better ways to do it — so I might expect the setup time to reduce by 50% if we manage to do the integration as we’d like to. While there’s always a backlog of everything that we want to achieve, in terms of prioritization, it’s a simple mathematical calculation of ROI.

In terms of channels, how do you decide what messages to push on which channel?

For immediate actions, a rich push notification is often the best format. We use our native format or emails for more complex messages, such as prompting users to purchase, communicating about new product updates or conveying COVID-19 guidelines. Not all our users opt-in to receive emails though, so our native format serves us well if email isn’t possible.

When it comes to push notifications, we’re careful about who to send these to — we are very conscious about not sending too many. Of course, there are exceptions to that rule: With our communications around COVID-19, we felt it was important enough to send a push to all users.

Our general rule is that the more active the user, the less likely they are to receive push notifications. We also try to avoid sending push notifications to users who haven’t interacted with them a certain number of times. So if Viber sent a user three push notifications and they never tapped on any of these, we'll stop sending them.

Braze, our customer engagement tool, also has a great feature called Intelligent Channel Delivery. This allows us to set a couple of channels and to serve the channel according to users’ last interaction with any of the channels.

In terms of messaging, we look at this very intuitively, but always make sure to back it up with data. Viber has a lot of cool features that people aren’t aware of, so we try to surface them contextually. If we see that a new user hasn’t messaged or communicated, then we will jump in with tutorials, or we will educate them about the benefits of communities or the benefits of groups. If a user sent an instant voice message, but they had never sent an instant video message, then we’ll send a prompt letting them know of the feature. It works because we’ve got users in the moment of inspiration or creation when they’re more likely to engage with new features.

Our general rule is that the more active the user, the less likely they are to receive push notifications.

We also try to avoid sending push notifications to users who haven’t interacted with them a certain number of times.

And what about measuring the effectiveness of all of these? How do you work out what’s working, what’s failing and where to improve?

For us, it’s all about our tech stack, and how these platforms and tools communicate with each other. Of course, Adjust is one of these, and it helps us know exactly where users come from — if it was from an organic tracker, a paid campaign, or referred by a friend.

Then we have our own data warehouse and data layer; our marketing automation platform Braze; and then there is another layer of data to analyze everything that has been done: our feedback loop. We are very meticulous when it comes to measuring effectiveness, to the point where I’m sometimes even annoyed by myself. But it's very important for me to make sure that we measure the right things, not just vanity metrics. Similarly, even though it’s my job to create campaigns, we don’t want to run them unless they are really going to be effective. And that’s usually based on similar past performance. When looking at what campaigns to run next, we’ll debate it as a team. If we did it in the past and it didn’t work, should we do it again? My answer is usually no.

Could you expand a little on the metrics you focus on at Viber?

Like any other brand, we’ll always look at top-of-funnel metrics — so tapped, opened, unsubscribed or marked as spam. These are useful, but not that important to me. Instead, we focus more on conversion to action. And we always measure these against a control group.

Let's say Viber prompted you to send a sticker to a friend. We’ll always look at the activity level (how active were users before and after sending a sticker?) and at the retention of the action (did users send another sticker in the next 30 days?). None of this is really important unless we compare it to the control group. Because if you sent a sticker, but someone who didn’t receive the prompt sent a sticker too, that’s not a success. Lastly, we also measure negative impact — uninstalls, users disabling push notifications, or users unsubscribing from our mailing list.

How have you approached building your team, and how do you make sure they’re set up for success?

I was lucky in that I was able to recruit my teams and also had the freedom to train them. It was important to me that everyone in the team knew how to do everything — run SQL analysis, launch campaigns, get familiar with copy creation and localization, carry out QA, and analyze results. We’re all trained — including myself — to do it end to end. I think this makes things much easier and helps us to work in a leaner way. Luckily, we also work very collaboratively with the product, data and R&D teams. The company culture at Viber is one where people just exchange and share ideas very freely. Earlier in the year, when we were all working from home for weeks on end, it all went very smoothly. All employees are still welcome to work from home if they feel more comfortable doing so. And that to me implies that we’re working in the right direction, just because of how smooth a transition it’s been in such an uncertain time.