Since June, this appears at the end of stories on the Oxford (UK) Mail website:
“Do you want alerts delivered straight to your phone via our WhatsApp service? Text NEWS or SPORT or NEWS AND SPORT, depending on which services you want, and your full name to 07767 417704. Save our number into your phone’s contacts as Oxford Mail WhatsApp and ensure you have WhatsApp installed.”
A good article on the Journalism.co.uk site chronicled the reasons why the Oxford Mail has gone to WhatsApp to reach more readers. (The fact that WhatsApp has 450 million users each day may be a good start.) I first downloaded WhatsApp about six months ago to communicate with a friend in Singapore and have continued to use it with friends and on trips overseas. It instantly recognizes the people in your contacts who also have WhatsApp and then uses the Internet to send the texts.
“It’s much more direct in turning around saying ‘come and read our story,’” Jason Collie, assistant editor of the Mail, told Journalism.co.uk. “Instead of hoping that yours is the one out of six or seven potential competitors that will be picked up by the readers.”
In the first two weeks they gained 200 followers. The Mail is careful not to overwhelm them, sending out only a morning and evening broadcast, plus maybe one more if there’s breaking news. A member I was speaking to at an INFO local dinner last night also warned me about sending out too many correspondences. He might have even used the word “desensitised,” which Collie does as well. There’s a point where we may turn off, the member told me.
The WhatsApp “alerts all link back to a story online,” Collie said, “so the website can only benefit.” Traffic announcements, appeals about missing persons, and breaking news provided the most click-throughs in those first couple weeks.
This also adheres to one of the new rules—that publishers are better off if they can get readers to tell them what they want. I just spoke with Andrew Leighton at Aroq Limited in Worcestershire UK, and he said that they are doing very well at getting many employees in their member companies—especially in their automotive vertical—to engage with them. The reasons for this are free trials and an email alert service that they just launched. “That caused a dramatic jump in usage,” he said. “They’re flexible, and the customer can choose the frequency” and the sectors they want to know about (there are about 40 of them).
“It’s all about meeting different demands,” Collie said. “There is not just one homogenous Oxford Mail reader who might buy the paper or might read the website or might see [news] on Twitter. There are different people who get their news in a different way and we’ve just got to supply it.”
Sending multiple messages to multiple lists can, of course, get complicated—blacklisting has to be constantly guarded against—but it’s essential to keeping users engaged. I was told last night that there is now a blacklisting program that measures on engagement and usage, so it’s vital to clean your lists and target as much as you can.
In April, BBC News India sent users of WhatsApp and WeChat information about the elections in India. WhatsApp users received three messages per day as push notifications, while WeChat users were limited to one. “The ‘technology barrier’ for messaging apps is much lower than that of other social media as users can sign up more quickly and send content more easily than on other platforms,” said Trushar Barot, assistant editor of the BBC’s UGC and social media hub.
Publishers are definitely finding more usages for the chat platforms of late. Yesterday I wrote how Access Intelligence has started to use an online chat system in their ordering process. They’re going through a company called Boldchat, saying it’s not that expensive given the value it can provide to frustrated users (and revenue that might otherwise go lost into the clouds). Chat platforms may also allow easier paths for user content, which many publishers still covet.
Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering diversity, Newspaper in Education, marketing and leadership before joining SIPA in 2009 , and then SIIA in 2013.