Viber  has gone social and has introduced a new public chats service where users can follow and interact with personalities, Vibercelebrities and brands. These public chats, which are essentially group chats viewable by anyone on the service, allow only a limited number of users to post messages, pictures, stickers and videos.

Public chats can have 99 participants who can  send messages in the chat and change the chat’s information. There can be any number of followers who can only view the chats and not edit or contribute in anyway. Public chats will be available for iOS and Android users first.

Some of the celebrities Viber has taken on board in India, its biggest user base with 33 million, are  Anushka Sharma, Ranveer Singh, Arjun Kapoor, Sonu Nigam, Shaan, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, and Saina Nehwal. Viber boasts a unique user base of 460 million. Note that WhatsApp, Viber’s direct competitor in India, has a user base of 70 million in India and a global user base of 600 million.

Our take: Viber is looking at the new feature as a way to attract more celebrities and brands as a more effective marketing tool. But  allowing users to talk directly and question celebrities and brands can be disastrous even if the conversation is one-sided, i.e. the celebrities get to choose which question to respond to. There is evidence that this can go horribly wrong as evidenced in Priyanka Chopra’s disastrous Reddit AMA.  Viber says that it does have plans to control trolls on the feature, but sometimes it could be used to suppress a question that needs to be asked.

Maybe Viber could take a leaf out of Snapchat’s book and send out short promotional video messages if it is looking at a new marketing tool?