Line Launches New Chat App To Connect Businesses And Brands With Consumers

Messaging app company Line has released a new service that will allow brands, SMEs and other business users to tap into its platform communicate with customers and consumers.

The Line@ app — which is available for iOS and Android — is essentially an enterprise-focused version of Line’s popular chat app.  Line@ plugs into the existing chat service and can exchange messages with regular Line users and post content to the social network-like ‘Timeline,’ but it is designed for communicating with people who are not friends but are clients, customers or fans. Line has 170 million active users worldwide.

From the Line blog post:

The Line@ service will greatly expand the potential of Line, for example allowing stores and facilities, as well as brand, media, and online business operators to promote new information, communicate with clients and other business contacts, create service usage reservations, and more. Designs, artists, magazine models, and other freelance talent can also utilize the service to communicate with fans.

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The new service is free to use but Line is charging users for a searchable, vanity ID ($24 for the first year, $12 thereafter) while free accounts are limited to sending 1,000 messages per month. Those wishing to go for more can pay $50 per month for 50,000 messages, messages beyond that bundle cost $0.01 each.

Line is already open to brands and business via its ‘official’ (branded) account option, but it costs tens of thousands of dollars to create and use a branded account leaving many business users priced out. In countries like Japan, Thailand and Taiwan — where Line is the dominant chat app — small merchants and SMEs have long adopted the consumer version of the app for their business, but in dong so they mix personal and work contacts in the same place. That’s exactly the issue that Line@ is designed to cater to, and it allows users to have a personal and business profile on the service.

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Line@ is essentially the company’s answer to Facebook Pages, except that it allows closer one-on-one communication between brand/business, and their customers/fans. There is also a PC version of Line@ — Line’s consumer app has Mac and Windows apps — and that offers additional services like polls and surveys, but the mobile app is certainly the main focus here.

The Line@ service is available worldwide — with the exception of China — and in 14 languages, including English, French, Korean, Japan, Russian and Thai.

WeChat, the dominant chat app in China that counts nearly 500 million active users, has already made its app friendly to business users. Enterprise accounts were opened to all businesses last September, and earlier in 2014 the service added a mobile store platform and released its payment service to all businesses — combined together, those three elements allow companies to run their business and communications via the service.

Line has introduced payment too, and though it is dabbling in its own version of shopping, it is pushing an online-to-offline strategy that allows retailers to establish a presence and interact with fans via its mobile messaging platform — giving them a dedicated point of access, beyond the expensive official accounts, is an important step.

However, Line has struggled to dominate markets beyond Japan, Taiwan and Thailand. A lack of users in a country makes it harder to sell the need for Line@ to businesses and brands, so it remains to be seen how this new app will be adopted. Line is focused on evolving beyond a messaging platform with games, and this month it launched a $42 million fund dedicated to turns its service into a lifestyle platform.