What's the Opportunity?
In the short time since early 2014, when the BBC became the first major news organization to conduct editorial experiments on messaging platforms, the landscape has changed significantly. Facebook bought WhatsApp for a staggering $22 billion. Snapchat is now a media powerhouse, turning away countless news publishers desperate to place their content within the app. Today, dozens of news organizations are on Viber, WeChat, WhatsApp, Kik, LINE, and Tango, to name just a few.
However, as Samir Mezrahi, senior editor of BuzzFeed, pointed out to us during our research, it is important to remember that these platforms are still in their infancy. They are, in most cases, longer-term bets, rather than ones that will bear immediate fruit if referrals and audience reach are the expectations.
If anything, the next 18 months to two years will see even faster change as the relationship between messaging platforms and news organizations deepens.
Through the course of our research for this report, we have seen a number of use cases which highlight opportunities for news organizations to develop a presence on these platforms.
Accelerating learning and content innovation on mobile phones
All the people with whom we spoke who were experimenting on messaging platforms shared one common experience: They have deepened their experience and skillset around what makes great content for mobile devices in a way they wouldn't have been able to do as quickly by using their own platforms alone. Whether it is developing production techniques for portrait videos on Snapchat, understanding the UX of chat bots on LINE or Kik, or using emojis on WhatsApp to interact with audiences, these apps have effectively become live, sandbox environments where new ways of telling stories and experimenting with interactive formats can be tested for instant feedback from users. What ends up working well can then be brought back to official apps and home websites.
Connecting with hard-to-reach youth audiences
Millennial audiences are a tough demographic to crack, but several of the messaging platforms covered in this report enjoy significant reach with them. Snapchat and Kik are already well established, but newer players (see below in predictions) are also emerging. Younger audiences globally in a number of regions are already ahead of the curve compared to their Western counterparts, using apps like WeChat and LINE to the utmost of their functionality.
Using WhatsApp as a UGC and newsgathering tool
BBC News has already seen great success in its newsroom and on several of its radio and TV programs after encouraging audiences to send in their content via WhatsApp. While the app doesn't have the same penetration in the United States as it does in many other parts of the world, it is still a great potential platform for tapping into diaspora and minority communities that are likely to use it disproportionately more to stay in touch with friends and family in other countries