Messaging apps may well be the next frontier for news publishers. Reuters’ 2018 Digital News Report states, “WhatsApp and Instagram have taken off in Latin America and parts of Asia. Snapchat is making progress in parts of Europe and the United States, particularly with younger users.”
Whatsapp is especially getting increasingly popular for sharing news. According to the research based on data from 40 countries and 5 continents, use of WhatsApp for news has almost tripled since 2014.
The challenge for publishers is to determine how to connect with audiences as they continue their shift from open to closed platforms while developing value propositions that are financially viable.Nic Newman, Research Associate, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism
Publishers in countries like Zimbabwe and India have been experimenting with ‘broadcast lists’, newsgroups, quizzes, and audio notes on Whatsapp. They make insightful case studies for media organizations looking to use messaging apps for distributing news.
“Whatsapp as a primary distributor of news”
In Zimbabwe, independent media are “turning to Whatsapp as a primary distributor of news” reports journalist Julia Thomas in a recent Neiman Lab article. She spoke to several outlets in the country and found that they were all taking unique approaches to sharing news content on Whatsapp.
263Chat, an alternative news platform which started Whatsapp groups in 2014 now has 29,000 subscribers. The publisher began sending out a weekly e-paper through Whatsapp in November 2017. Soon afterward, it launched a daily version in the form of a single pdf of around 19 pages.
The e-paper contains content spread across categories like news, business, opinion, tech, sports, classifieds section with job postings and a daily recipe. The publisher also taps into its Whatsapp community to get their feedback on current stories and issues.
According to Thomas, the publisher, “has seen an increase in advertising revenue and interest from large companies in the country, despite the economic issues that have plagued Zimbabwean businesses.” Its founder, Nigel Mugamu, expected revenue to triple by the end of 2018.
Kukurigo Updates, another Zimbabwean Whatsapp based news platform, began by sharing news updates in the month before the country’s July 2018 elections. Its founding editor, Edmund Kudzayi saw a high enough level of user engagement to continue the initiative as a full-fledged news service beyond the election season.
According to the latest figures, the service has amassed 28,000 subscribers. “I really think that instant messaging is where the news is going to go, especially when people figure out how to format it and make it beautiful. I think it’s a promising platform,” says Kudzayi.
“Helps drive considerable loyalty among users”
In India, business and financial news publisher Bloomberg|Quint—a partnership between Bloomberg and Indian digital content company Quintillion Media—became the first company to launch a WhatsApp news service in November 2017.
The service features interactive, real-time updates, personalized stock market watchlists and portfolios, daily podcasts and logo placements. It has grown into over 400,000 subscribers in 15 months and gets around 5 million page views a month, according to Ankit Dhadda, Bloomberg|Quint’s Head of Marketing and Digital Product.
WhatsApp also allows publishers to create and maintain a loyalty base for their brands, which is completely separate from that on Google, Facebook, and other platforms. This has helped create a completely new and relatively unexplored avenue for traffic and revenue generation for publishers. Moreover, it also helps drive considerable loyalty among users, without the challenge of having to compete with multiple publishers, such as on search engines and social media.Ankit Dhadda, Bloomberg|Quint’s Head of Marketing and Digital Product
He adds, “WhatsApp has also proven to be instrumental in providing innovative mobile-led solutions for clients in the publishing domain. Three such clients of Bloomberg|Quint who partnered with the brand in its WhatsApp journey have successfully leveraged the platform to drive thousands of users to their platforms, thereby providing a new avenue of revenue.”
In December 2018, Bloomberg|Quint launched BQ Blue, a subscription-based product. It has a monthly plan for Rs 700 (approximately 8.95 euros), an annual plan for Rs 3000 (about 38.5 euros) and a 2-year plan for Rs 5000 (about 65 euros). Although the plans are priced high, WAN-IFRA reports that more than 80% of its subscribers have come through the WhatsApp service. Details about the number of premium subscribers were not shared.
“Potential to become the highest traffic driver”
News distribution through messaging apps can not only help publishers drive traffic to their site but also fight the scourge of fake news. Sohini Guharoy, who heads Audience Engagement & Social Media at The Quint, Quintillion Media’s general news site, says, “When publishers put out fact-checked news reports, chances of those being shared instead of the fake news content is much higher.
“People are aware of the publisher brands and their authenticity; with a more personal model of content distribution, WhatsApp has the potential to quickly become the highest traffic driver for publishers.”
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