As smartphone users rely more and more on mobile messaging apps, James Wood discovers that they’ve influenced a whole new style of storytelling.

This weekend I received a series of messages on my phone from the friends and family of Amy Morris, a 25-year-old girl who has gone missing in Brixton.

Thankfully, I am not involved in a real life missing persons case but instead deeply engrossed in the fictional murder mystery story, ‘Last Seen Online’.

Last Seen Online is the latest release in a growing trend of storytelling messaging apps that I predict are set to rocket in popularity over the next year.

The concept is simple – the Last Seen Online app replicates Amy’s WhatsApp feed, showing you a number of old message threads to read through, giving you some idea of her character.

Over the course of 7 days you receive messages; including texts, videos and voice notes, live to ‘Amy’s phone’ – each one building the story and giving you a clue to where and how she went missing.

The thing you notice, mainly because the Last Seen Online looks (pretty much) exactly the same as your own WhatsApp, is how incredibly immersed you become in the story – with message notifications from characters in the story becoming mixed with your own, real-life, ones.

I’ve yet to reach the conclusion of the story, but find myself actively checking my phone to see if any new messages have come through to get the next piece in the puzzle.

These ‘fiction by text message’ apps are already becoming big news. ‘Hooked’, for example, has had 1.8 million downloads (not including uninstalls) in the last year and is the top grossing book app for iOS in the US.

An opportunity for brands?

In an age where marketers are continually vying for the attention of their audience, there’s no doubt that it’s only genuinely interesting, different and absorbing content like this that’s going to deliver any sort of cut-through – especially if brands can get more creative with this format.

Imagine, for example, an Internet security company launching an app in which you follow the downfall of a company after a big hack, over the course of a week, through the messages of the CIO.

Or how about a company giving new starters who are about to join a chance to experience a week in the life of an employee live, through a replica of their emails? A little different to the usual starter pack PDFs most employees receive.

The attention to detail in Last Seen Online is incredible, going as far as creating mini websites for fictional bars that appear in the story.

If brands want to do their own version of this and strike a chord with their audience they’ll really need to go the extra mile both in terms of budget and time spent on developing it – but if they do it right they may once again gain some attention.

You can download Last Seen Online on your iPhone or read a bit more about it right here.

@planningbadger