Guide to Chat Apps

The key findings of this report can be summarized as follows:

  • Messaging apps offer strong opportunities to engage new or difficult-to-reach demographics. For example, Snapchat, a very popular app among millennials, has been credited with engaging and informing young audiences on complex issues like the Iran nuclear deal.
  • Innovations such as bespoke (or customized) stickers and emojis can help news outlets quickly build significant audiences via messaging apps.
  • Messaging apps enable news outlets to gather (potentially exclusive) user-generated content and can become a major source during breaking news situations (e.g., as in the BBC’s coverage of the second Nepal earthquake in 2015).
  • News outlets may need to experiment with a variety of chat apps to decipher which content type best suits the audiences of each app. BuzzFeed, for example, had considerably more success using LINE for soft news than for hard news.
  • Messaging apps can provide unique opportunities for giving audiences direct access to content and publishers, be it through tailormade WeChat platforms (Cliff Central) or Public Chats on Viber (The Huffington Post).
  • Messaging apps provide a space for news outlets to engage their audiences with different—possibly lighter—types of content (e.g., The Washington Post has used Kik to distribute games, quizzes, and chat adventures).
  • Even apps that are not as geared toward publishing as some of their competitors, such as WhatsApp, hold great potential for news outlets if used strategically.
  • Messaging apps not only facilitate communication with eyewitnesses in areas where other forms of communication aren’t functioning (e.g., during extreme weather conditions), they can also provide a platform for people who don’t feel safe speaking on the telephone. Additionally, apps such as Telegram focus strongly on encryption and security.
  • Messaging apps are not used solely to drive traffic to websites (e.g., BuzzFeed is using LINE as part of a more distributed strategy and aims to provide as much information as possible inside the app, rather than direct users to its website).
  • When sourcing user-generated content, apps like WhatsApp, which are tied to a user’s phone number, can significantly speed up the verification process as they provide a direct line to the content creator/eyewitness.
  • Messaging apps are relatively new and evolving at a rapid pace. Consequently, many news outlets are still in the process of establishing strategies to best utilize these platforms.
  • There is emerging evidence that messaging apps may drive traffic back to outlets’ other, more traditional platforms (e.g., CNN’s Snapchat Discover drove people to seek out longer-form content on CNN’s TV news channel).

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