It’s time for news orgs to learn to love Telegram
Messaging app Telegram was originally created for private communications. With time it became a handy content distribution tool for news media via channels and chat groups. It now reaches an active monthly user base of over 500 million people worldwide.
Telegram was founded by Russian entrepreneur Pavel Durov in 2013. It initially took off in East European countries, including Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. It has since expanded globally, driven by its privacy features and political instability from Hong Kong to the US. Telegram currently ranks as the sixth most used global messaging app.
It is a big hit in authoritarian countries like Iran, where Telegram is the leading social platform with over 50 million users. In early 2018, the government completely banned it for refusing to remove encryption to officials. In response, people turned to VPN servers and proxies, or unofficial versions of the app called “forks”. The latter, however, can be dangerous, with a March 2020 leak revealing 42 million users account IDs, user names, phone numbers.
It has been growing in popularity in the West. Top countries in terms of Telegram traffic now count Germany, Italy, and Brazil. This is partially due to mass deplatforming from other social media. While most messaging apps have content policies that prevent the audience from using hate speech, Telegram is more loosely moderated.
As a result, it became a top destination for supporters of former US president Donald Trump who called for violence in the wake of the Capitol riots. According to SensorTower, Telegram became the second-most installed messenger in the U.S. this January.
The rise in the number of users (most of whom are not extremists of various kinds), is but one reason why the news media should take a close look at Telegram. The Fix gathered what you need to know to be successful on the platform as a publisher.
Telegram’s advantages for news media
- Control over content distribution. Telegram channel subscribers see everything you post in chronological order. So reach and user engagement depend directly on story quality and ability to build an audience – unlike with Facebook, Instagram or even LinkedIn. It also means one of the best subscriber-to-views/shares rates among social media platforms
- User-friendly platform set-up. The platform makes good use of its mute/ unmute button. Followers can be alerted about all published posts or avoid notifications and use the app whenever it suits them. Also, since 2019 Telegram users can divide chats and channels into custom categories and even further personalize their feed.
- High speed and low bandwidth needs. Telegram is great for live coverage of events and functions well at low internet speeds. This was famously proven in Belarus after protests erupted in August 2020. Authorities slowed the internet to a trickle hoping to prevent people from coordinating. Despite the whole capital being essentially offline, Telegram channels managed to keep working, giving media orgs a tool to report on the protests. According to Telegram Analytics, Belarusian news channel Nexta Live grew from 300,000 to more than 2 million subscribers in the first month of protests.
- Reliable privacy system. Telegram is anti-authoritarian by design, with strong data protection and anti-censorship solutions. Messages from groups, channels and private chats are stored on company servers with cloud-based encryption, which means they can theoretically be accessed. To create a 100% private line users Telegram introduced secret chats using end-to-end encryption. Messages in secret chats are stored on user devices and disappear without a data trail if the chat is deleted. This makes Telegram secret chats a secure way to communicate with other journalists, readers, or even whistleblowers.
- Direct way to reach a young audience. Telegram is one of the popular messengers among young consumers (who are also typically willing and able to pay for media content). This is especially true for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, where audience research shows that a majority of users are below 34.
Key tools for analyzing Telegram statistics
Telegram Analytics is the biggest online platform with statistical data on more than 150,000 Telegram channels all over the world. It gathers data on several indicators – with Engagement Rate by Reach (ERR) and CI (citation index) chief among them.
ERR is an indicator of user engagement – the ratio of average number of views to number of subscribers. The more audience of a certain channel view and use publications, the higher the indicator. For example, Bloomberg has about 55,600 daily reach with 85,983 members.
CI (citation index) is based on mentions and shares. The more often a Telegram channel is mentioned in other chats, the higher its citation index is and the more audience it can attract.
TGStat Bot is a helper bot created by Telegram itself inside the messenger. It shows all the data for any particular chat, channel or even a single piece of content.
Channel Stats – is another analysis tool available within the app. It provides analytics about post performances and channel growth for channels with more than 50 subscribers.
Growing the audience and monetization
While connecting with an existing audience is convenient, growing it is much more tricky. Telegram does not promote content based on its popularity or quality – one has to get users to subscribe before they even see your channel’s or group’s content. As a result, new channels often struggle with getting new followers.
So here are a few tips to grow your Telegram channel:
- Promoting the channel or its content on the other platforms (think Facebook or Instagram), is an easy and solution. Most users use several platforms and can easily migrate.
- To drive internal growth (inside the platform), publishers can also ask active users to share content inside the app, in private conversations or group chats.
- Staying focused on your content can also help grow an engaged audience on the platform. For that reason some media outlets create several channels appealing to interests of a one particular audience group. For example, Ukrainian legacy media outlet Ukrayinska Pravda has three Telegram channels UP.Klyatipytannya focusing on FAQ from the readers, UP.Strichka for news content sharing, and UP.Off the record, where journalists share “insider information” on Ukraine’s political life.
- Advertising inside the platform is probably the best way to grow a community on Telegram. The platform does not yet provide any monetization tools for its users. So to advertise one has to go to another publisher, make a deal and pay the negotiated price outside the platform.
Unfortunately, this is not very transparent, creating a free space for shady deals and unclear pricing. It also makes it hard to estimate how much money can one make on Telegram. Since the platform and government are not taking their cut (due to the absence of any platform-developed solution), ad prices on Telegram are pretty low compared to the results they bring. To put it another way, though, ad buyers can get a pretty good deal for their money, cost per view price is relatively low.
However some good news might be coming up here, too. As the platform hit 500 millions users, Durov announced plans for monetization updates. The company will add paid features for business channels and power users. Moreover, Telegram will integrate ads in massive public channels using the company’s ad network. Private group chats will be free of advertising messages.
These changes implemented will make Telegram even more attractive to the media, so why not get started now.
This piece was originally published in The Fix and is re-published with permission. The Fix is a solutions-oriented publication focusing on the European media scene. Subscribe to its weekly newsletter here.