How are Newsrooms Using Chat Apps?

Mădălina Ciobanu of Journalism.co.uk has written a trio of interesting articles which explore the opportunities for news organisations using chat apps to source and publish work.

Her first article looks at Snapchat’s Discover which is clearly proving to be a popular experiment with news organisations.

In an interview with Ciobanu Alan Strange, senior producer at Sky News explained that the Discover platform allows the flexibility to tell a story in any way they choose. Each news organisation publishes a ‘daily edition’, which has between five and ten stories. Within each edition a ‘top Snap’ is the headline which can be swiped up to view more information, pictures or video, or users can swipe on to the next story or close the edition.

Strange likes the way the way the top Snap can be used to tell the whole story, or to work as a teaser in order to encourage a longer look at the further article. He doesn’t see the platform as breaking news service (like Twitter), but a way of reaching out to a different audience with a stand alone offer. Ciobanu explains how repositioning Discover within Snapchat’s Stories section has been advantageous to Sky and it’s other media partners.

Snapchat’s decision to move the Discover tab into the platform’s Stories page back in July means publishers now have more visibility, which at Sky News resulted in a 319 per cent overnight increase in traffic. “We’re not trying to push people back to our other platforms…The strategy is to create original content for an audience who we feel we’re beginning to understand a little bit better.”

Mashable’s strategy is to spread its presence out from it’s own website and across multiple social media sites including Discover. Ciobanu spoke to Jeff Petriello, director of Mashable’s creative development;

Petriello explained how a large part of the content Mashable will produce on Discover will be related to experiments across other platforms like Vine or Instagram, and to Mashable’s original Snapchat account. He said success on the platform can be looked at from two different perspectives. One of them is the story aspect, where publishers don’t have to “play an algorithm game” to ensure people can see their content.

Ciobanu has also been following and digesting the contributions of news organisations speaking at last week’s Messaging Apps conference in London, which she discusses across two articles.

Firstly she asks ‘are messaging apps the next big thing in news or still an experiment?’.

Julian March, senior vice president for editorial and innovation at NBC News echoed Mashable’s strategy of using messaging apps as a way of spreading their presence across multiple audiences and hopes that this is the first step to engaging an audience and encouraging them to download the publishers own app. He is also interested in the way chat apps can allow news consumers to curate their own news stream;

“What we’re all getting at is that the new broadcast is the ‘narrow cast’,” said March. It’s no longer enough to broadcast one message to millions, when you can also narrow cast messages to individuals. There is an opportunity to give a brand a sort of persona within an app or instant messaging environment, which allows the app to become more like a news search engine.”

Ciobanu outlined also the different approach of the BBC, which with its public sector role has a different set of priorities when it comes to engaging with an audience.

The BBC has been making extensive use of such apps in recents months, having used Viber and WhatsApp to communicate with people during the Nepal earthquake, the Ebola outbreak and even for newsgathering. “Engagement is ultimately about people coming back,” said Tom Bowman, senior vice president of sales operations and commercial production for BBC Worldwide. You can go down a very deep rat hole around the topic of viewability, but is your service actually useful to people?”

In a last article Ciobanu asks ‘how newsrooms are using chat apps to source and share stories?

Trushar Barot (mobile editor at BBC World Service) speaking at the conference, described how important it is to know who the audience is that is accessing news via chat apps, and how where they are in the world can have an influence;

“We picked up on the fact that the 18-25 demographic is not a general thing around the world and people in the UK or the US can have different interest to those in Africa or Asia,” said Barot. He explained the younger audience in South Africa was interested in how the elections affected them and topics like education, economy and jobs, which were less covered by the mainstream media in the country. “But onLine, the audience tends to be the more affluent younger generation in Asia,” Barot pointed out, “and with them, we focus more on 15-second videos that give a daily overview of interesting stories.”

Reading the three articles together it’s clear to see that publishing via messaging apps is allowing media organisations the flexibility to publish material in a way that suits both their delivery approach and their audience. The emerging lesson is that understanding your audience is just as important in this form of publishing as any other.


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