André van Loon is senior research and insight director at We Are Social, the socially-led creative agency.
Users of The Daily Telegraph’s WhatsApp audio briefings are 12 times more likely to convert to paid subscribers than an average homepage reader, according to the briefings’ editor Danny Boyle.
Boyle told Journalism.co.uk that "thousands" of users have signed up to the WhatsApp group. As part of the audio briefings, users are provided with links to articles, giving Boyle’s team insight into click-throughs to site and conversion into paid subscribers.
"People will subscribe via the homepage or seeing something on Twitter but this is another way of reaching people where and when they want it," he said.
The development is part of wider digital trends. Private messaging apps are on the rise generally, with WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger the third and fourth most actively used social platform of any kind, as noted in We Are Social and Hootsuite’s Global Digital Report Q3 2019.
In terms of news consumption, Facebook has fallen as the primary platform in many countries, with WhatsApp news usage doubling to 16 per cent in four years.
The use of messaging apps as an additional distribution channel has been trialled by various news organisations, including the BBC, The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, HuffPost, Financial Times and The Washington Post. Typically, this involves a traditional broadcast method of ‘push’ messages, providing short news updates and links to further content.
Generally, the ability to interact with journalists through the news messaging apps is rare; of course, this could easily turn into a time-intensive task for publishers to undertake. Some, like The Daily Telegraph’s Brexit WhatsApp group, regularly run surveys, using the results to inform news articles. And during the 2017 German elections, The Washington Post’s Rick Noack responded to users on WhatsApp.
More innovative aspects have included the use of emojis to diversify the tone of serious news content and giving users journalism-themed stickers to share content, as in The Washington Post’s Viber service.
The rise of private messaging apps and dark social sharing poses both threats and opportunities to publishers and news organisations. The shift from people giving their opinions and reactions to news content on open platforms like Twitter, for fear of giving offence, into private message spaces means that analysing audience opinions has become much harder.
Nonetheless, set up in the right way with messaging share buttons and trackable links, news content shared through dark social can be quantified: certain types of content proving more shareable than others can be optimised, and future content produced according to the same style, tone, theme or length.
You will not see what dark social sharers are discussing about your content in their own WhatsApp and other private groups, but you can see what exact content is most - or least - shared.
Also, user opinion about messaging app content can be sought through the use of simple polls within that content. The distribution channel can then be tailored to what its users say they like most, or would like to have more of. The results of those polls can be published within the messaging group, to keep users informed and engaged.
Above all, setting up private message groups for news consumers to engage in means publishers can regain some control over gaining paying customers. Regular group users, for example, can be offered subscription offers.
And, as The Daily Telegraph’s WhatsApp audio briefings shows, giving users the kind of content they like, within the private messaging spaces they naturally inhabit as part of their daily lives, can lead to an impressive conversion from users to subscribers.
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