With only three days until Britain decides whether or not it wants to continue being a member of the European Union, the upcoming referendum (23 June) has been central to most publishers' political coverage.

News outlets have tried to be more creative in their coverage of the event, through methods such as holding live debates with political figures on Facebook Live and sending people push notifications through Apple Wallet.

The Economist's month-long series of Q&A's on Facebook Live

The Economist has been experimenting with Facebook's live video feature since January, but to cover the EU referendum, deputy community editor Adam Smith and his team developed a four-week series of Q&As on the possible implications the vote's outcome could have on the country.

Each episode lasted for approximately half an hour, where Smith and an Economist correspondent would sit down and discuss trade, politics, migration and finance, questioning each other and answering queries from the audience on Facebook.

Some 2,000 people watched each installment of the series live, with the Q&As each averaging about 46,000 views later on.

"The episode on migration seemed to reach more people on Facebook by an order of about 20-30 per cent than the previous posts, with a slightly higher than average number of shares and comments," Smith told Journalism.co.uk in a recent podcast.

"I guess there is something very special happening in Facebook Live right now, where the number of comments is so much greater – for us it's about 10 times as many as we would normally see for a post that's just linking to one of our articles, and that's because people are commenting and responding to each other live."

Other ways The Economist has covered the referendum have involved the 'mythbuster' format, which are image cards for social media that debunk some of the claims surrounding a possible Brexit, showing the myth written on one side and the fact-checked statement on the other side.

Last week, the outlet also created a Twitter Moments edition, curating 10 tweets from its writers and correspondents with their thoughts on the upcoming vote.

Live debate reactions from The Times' Red Box

The Times found a way to benefit from the buzz and audience tuning in to watch the political debates on TV, especially now that it has switched to an edition-based publishing model, updating the website at 9am, 12 noon, 5pm and midnight.

The publisher partnered with Microsoft to develop Red Box React, a feature that allowed viewers of the debate to show their agreement or disagreement with the statements being made on TV by choosing from a thumbs up or thumbs down option on The Times website. Between 1,500 and 2,500 people took part on the two occasions this feature was used.

The page where people could sign up to Red Box React was in front of the outlet's paywall and they were asked to answer some questions about their age, gender, which political party they supported and how they were planning to vote in order to have some balance, but any analysis of the results was only available to Times subscribers.

"I think the sort of people sitting down, watching a TV debate and then picking up their phone to vote in an online thing like Red Box React are quite politically engaged and switched on," said Matt Chorley, editor of Red Box.

"We were able to build up a sort of average sentiment about the referendum and break that up by people who who said they were going to vote in, out or had yet to make up their minds.

"It was a good way to engage with the audience and push the Red Box and The Times brand out to an online audience, as sometimes because of the paywall we might not punch above our weight quite so much on social media."

Academic expertise 'straight away', on WhatsApp

The Conversation, an outlet combining reporting with expert commentary from academics, started broadcasting analysis about the referendum through WhatsApp last Tuesday (13 June).

By adding The Conversation on WhatsApp, users can expect to receive one daily update in the form of fact-checking, explainers or graphs. Khalil Cassimally, community coordinator for The Conversation UK, said they chose WhatsApp mainly because of its popularity and its broadcast list feature, but if the experiment goes well, they will consider expanding the service to other apps.

"I think the most important idea is to give people timely information, not necessarily in the sense that breaking news is happening and we push something out.

"But, for example, if there is a debate happening about immigration, we want to send people relevant articles that will put that in the proper context."

The Conversation is also planning to encourage people to message the team directly when there is a live debate so their questions can be answered individually, rather than the particular information being broadcast to the whole group.

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