WhatsApp, Viber, Line and Snapchat are just some of the messaging apps news organisations have experimented with, but have they been more successful as distribution channels or crowdsourcing platforms? And what kind of stories should be pushed through chat apps?
“There’s a lot of excitement at The Guardian about what messaging apps could offer us, particularly in areas of the world where we don't have much connection or an audience,” said Laura Oliver, head of social media at the Guardian, speaking at the Messaging Apps conference in London yesterday.
But “[this] does bring about barriers around language or translation,” she added.
Oliver said the Guardian has been experimenting with WhatsApp and Line to source stories from their audience over the last six months, as well as putting together an internal guideline that could be applied to similar apps in the future.
“The questions we ask ourselves are ‘what do we want to communicate’, ‘how do we do this’, and if we source stories from these platforms, ‘what’s the best approach for that?’”The 18-25 demographic is not a general thing around the world and people in the UK or the US can have different interest to those in Africa or AsiaTrushar Barot, BBC World Service
Oliver explained the Guardian did a lot of research with younger people prior to the UK general election, both with regular readers and individuals less familiar with the publication.
“The Guardian was often characterised by the audience as an ‘older, flamboyant gentleman’.
“[And] on topics like Westminster and politics, people were more concerned with ‘how does this impact me’ or ‘who do I trust’?”
Trushar Barot, mobile editor at BBC World Service, said the broadcaster has so far tried around 10 messaging apps, on different scales.
The BBC experimented with WhatsApp, WeChat and Snapchat during the South African election last year, which “helped inform [the BBC’s] own coverage of the country”.
“We picked up on the fact that the 18-25 demographic is not a general thing around the world and people in the UK or the US can have different interest to those in Africa or Asia,” said Barot.
He explained the younger audience in South Africa was interested in how the elections affected them and topics like education, economy and jobs, which were less covered by the mainstream media in the country.
“But on Line, the audience tends to be the more affluent younger generation in Asia,” Barot pointed out, “and with them, we focus more on 15-second videos that give a daily overview of interesting stories.”
He said the BBC has “pivoted away from doing lots of broadcasting on WhatsApp”, using it more more as a space for receiving valuable user generated content.
During the Nepal earthquake, the BBC set up a ‘lifeline' service on Viber to give people useful updates, and it also ran a liveblog where 70 per cent of the content was crowdsourced on WhatsApp.
The Wall Street Journal has also tried out WeChat, WhatsApp, Snapchat and Line.We know people who are on Snapchat don’t want dumbed down financial content, they just want to receive the stories we produce in a more interesting waySarah Marshall, Wall Street Journal
Sarah Marshall, the Journal's social media editor for EMEA, said the outlet has 1.5 million followers on Line, particularly in areas where its Facebook communities are not so strong.
Marshall spent the summer in New York City, where her role included researching the kind of information audiences in an expat community want to receive via chat apps and how often.
“Given a choice between receiving regular updates or one big update on a messaging app, people preferred once a week,” Marshall said.
On its two Snapchat channels, the Journal has been sharing live reports and behind-the-scenes updates, as well as taking on the challenge of “turning non-visual stories into visual ones”, whether they tackle topics like the US Open or libel.
“We know people who are on Snapchat don’t want dumbed down financial content, they just want to receive the stories we produce in a more interesting way.”
- The role of chat apps in the newsroom will also be discussed at Journalism.co.uk's upcoming news:rewired conference on 1 December. Find out more here.
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