Credit: Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

The Telegraph is using 'low-tech' audio briefings on WhatsApp to engage with news audiences on the commute and convert them to paying subscribers.

Users who sign up for the updates receive a two-minute 'radio bulletin-style' messages at 8 am and 5:30 pm, followed by a text message with links to the articles.

Behind the project are commuter editions editor Danny Boyle and commuter editions producer Chris Price whose strategy is to break into the habits of people on public transport heading into work.

According to Boyle, users who sign up for the group are 12 times more likely to become paid subscribers than an average reader on the homepage, and people who follow the link to articles go on to read double the number of articles than an average reader, too.

He added that users "in the thousands" have signed up for the WhatsApp group. Although the platform does not offer metrics into how many plays the audio briefings get, he can see open rates of links, that show the group's potential as a subscription driver.

"People will subscribe via the homepage or seeing something on Twitter, but this is another way of reaching people where they are and when they want it," Boyle said.

At a time when other publishers are recognising that their digital competitors extend to streaming services, The Telegraph's mobile competitors are not limited to its traditional rivals either.

"It’s clear that not everyone is looking at news, we’re no longer just competing with The Metro in the morning. These people are just as likely to be playing Candy Crush or checking Facebook Messenger," said Boyle.

"We and everyone else are competing for attention which is in such short supply. Everyone has something to catch up on, so it’s an example of changing pressures on people's time."

Before 8 am, Boyle has already written and sent out the Front Page newsletter for The Telegraph, so he has a selection of the best news stories at his fingertips to curate the WhatsApp briefing.

But certain news judgements are made with the commuters in mind, including prioritising stories about train cancellations and the platform itself, WhatsApp.

"I would have never made a big play of those stories in the newsletter, but to someone receiving that on WhatsApp, that makes a lot more sense."

There is also surprisingly little production work going on. Hosts record with Voice Memos on an iPhone without mics. With one clean take, all that is left to do is crop the ends and upload it into the group.

"Being rough and ready - and you hear me shifting around in my chair – adds to this idea of intimacy because WhatsApp is an intimate platform.

"If you’re there replying to messages about your weekend plans, it wouldn't work if I popped up with this swiftly produced briefing."

For other publishers looking to make an entrance on WhatsApp, he advised remaining true to both your brand and your voice as an individual.

"We appreciate our readers are intelligent, informed and curious about the world around them. It’s a good example of short form leading into long form - but not everyone has those brand values, and if you think short form hits are the way to go, then stay true to that.

"While you don’t want too many 'ums and ahs', you do need to write it how you speak. Don’t modulate your accent or phrases because people know what automated sounds are like."

Want to learn how to grow your audience? Find out how at Newsrewired on 27 November at Reuters, London. Head to for the full agenda and tickets

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