WhatsApp was built for private chatting not public sharing, so using it to share news with users presents a unique set of challenges for publishers. But, a group of publishers have started to undertake WhatsApp marketing strategies to explore what’s possible with the service. A western brand may call this a necessity but still feel distanced from it. But in India, WhatsApp’s most populous market, the narrative of news consumption has unfolded to make a transition to WhatsApp not a calculation, but a natural next step.

It’s a widely-held estimate that in January 2018, Indian WhatsApp user numbers reached 300 million. It may well be even higher than this today. Remarkable, considering WhatsApp has 1.6 billion monthly users internationally. Check the rapid increase in growth rate for Indian WhatsApp users:

Indian WhatsApp User Growth
Source: http://www.businessofapps.com/data/whatsapp-statistics/

User-reported statistics reveal that 82% of Indian internet users are on the app, putting it behind Facebook (89%) and YouTube (93%) only.

Germany’s another area of significant interest. According to Axel Springer’s Hannah Schwär: 94% of young Germans favour [WhatsApp] over other social media apps. Especially in times where it’s really hard to reach a young audience via news apps or Facebook, this is a really interesting channel.’

In the run up to the 2018 German federal elections, Axel Springer attempted to devise a way to engage young voters. Their in-house team created Shotty.

What’s Shotty?

In spite of its catchy name, Shotty is not actually a chatbot. Schwär found that commercially available WhatsApp chatbots didn’t support voice messages, a feature key to Shotty. So yes, the team literally had to manage the community by hand.

Shotty worked on the basis that the editor and host record a bulletin at 5am every morning with a loose, conversational tone. Then, they would distribute it via WhatsApp at 7am. Most users reported feeling too lazy to read much news in the early hours of the morning, so audio fitted into their morning routine seamlessly.

But, Schwär told Medium that without a WhatsApp-supported technical infrastructure it’ll be difficult to scale Shotty up any further. ScoopWhoop is a great example of WhatsApp-supported infrastructure deployed effectively, allowing for indefinite growth.

What’s ScoopWhoop?

Founded in 2013 by six friends from advertising and marketing backgrounds, ScoopWhoop is best considered as India’s answer to sites like BuzzFeed and The Huffington Post. Co-founder and CEO Sattvik Mishra told Inc42 “We would go through all these sites in the US that had viral content such as Diply.com or Huffington Post or even a Buzzfeed. And we realised that this same culture was being replicated here in India.”

“All our publications around that time, apart from those in mainstream media, were American in nature, talking about their TV shows, their problems, and their issues. And the pop culture that did exist in India was US-focussed. So we decided to do something about it.”

ScoopWhoop’s WhatsApp service merely requires a user to click a button and send the automatically added ScoopWhoop contact a message, and they will begin to receive daily news updates via WhatsApp. The service is automated using MessengerPeople (then known as WhatsBroadcast); an identical setup to I AM POP, which we’ve covered in the past. It works similarly to The Quint’s WhatsApp chatbot.

What’s The Quint?

The Quint is an English and Hindi language news site founded by Raghav Bahl and Ritu Kapur. Initially, they used WhatsApp Business to distribute content with their readers. But the system restricted them to manually updating multiple 256-member WhatsApp groups, rather than one all-encompassing list. The response was overwhelming, and they quickly began to look into more efficient ways of distributing their content via WhatsApp.

Like ScoopWhoop, The Quint decided to experiment with MessengerPeople. Now, all a reader had to do was send the word ‘Start’ to the WhatsApp window, and they’d begin receiving daily news bulletins. Here’s how they look.

Bloomberg Quint's WhatsApp MessengerPeople Service
Source: https://www.messengerpeople.com/chatbots-what-is-a-whatsapp-bot-actually/

At first, The Quint tried MessengerPeople through the BloombergQuint branch of the publication, as the content is niche; stock updates, business news, etc. The user base grew rapidly, leading many users to the site and increasing and driving monetisation. This particular WhatsApp service has over 268,000 subscribers as of August 2018. And that’s just BloombergQuint; The Quint hosts a number of other channels, such as NEON and FIT.

How is WhatsApp performing in the UK?

All this hype isn’t restricted to India, of course. WhatsApp is performing brilliantly in the UK. Facebook and YouTube are the UK’s most popular social networks, both tied with 79% of social network users in the UK as of February 2018. WhatsApp, however, is the UK’s most popular chat app, with a social network user share of 58%. That tops even Facebook Messenger’s monthly active users. Here’s how the whole graph looks.

Social networks ranked by usage in the UK
Source: https://www.messengerpeople.com/whatsapp-user-base-uk/

I’m convinced. How do I use MessengerPeople?

Here’s the ‘Use Case’ for users who would like to send notifications and alerts over WhatsApp. This is likely the area which digital publishers will be most interested in.

Use Case: Notifications & Alerts

Use messaging apps to send your customers important information or updates in real-time, reaching them on their smartphone lock screen.

  • Verification – such as registration or login confirmation, two-factor authentication, etc.
  • Confirmation – for example, booking or payment confirmations.
  • Alert – delivery status, flight time changes and more.
  • Reminder – for an appointment or an unpaid bill, etc.

After signing up for the 14-day free trial, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Click on ‘Configure Test Numbers’ in the WhatsApp Business Test Users panel in the dashboard to save the test user phone numbers (yours and your colleagues’).
  2. Have you or another test user message to your channel number (which you can find in ‘WhatsApp Business Test Users’ in the Dashboard).
  3. Once this is done, navigate to the ‘Assignment’ page and assign the received ticket to any agent. It can then be replied to via WhatsApp.

For more information on how to get started with the service, head here.

Pricing starts at €699 per month, with additional packages available according to the chat answers, agents and channels the user requires. The full price breakdown and comprehensive list of features can be found here.

There’s plenty of evidence that MessengerPeople is worthwhile for publishers. Mathematics spoke to International Marketing Manager Birgit Bucher, who told us:

Our Messenger Communication Platform is based on personalized messenger customer communication. The customer contacts a business first in order to receive information and news. So naturally, there is an impressive opening rate behind that. Our clients have an average open rate of up to 90% and click-through rate of 35%.

Most WhatsApp users also have the push-notification enabled, so the message appears directly and immediately on the lock screen. This ensures maximum awareness. With the help of our platform, companies were able to increase their customer satisfaction.

Our take

Naturally, there are downsides to a WhatsApp strategy. As you’re no doubt aware, it’s not a ‘share-friendly’ platform, so requires a strategy entirely of its own, separate to that of social media channels. Also, the way that images download automatically onto users’ phones is a cumbersome frustration, occupying gallery space and potentially leading to unsubscribes.

It’s always good to be careful when using startups that piggyback services like WhatsApp, but since changing from WhatsBroadcast, MessengerPeople has been officially endorsed by WhatsApp. It is one of the few official WhatsApp Business API providers worldwide. See here for their official recognition. I asked Bucher for clarity here and she explained “…there is no risk of WhatsApp cutting any numbers of our clients. You can read more about the WhatsApp Business API here.”

Here at Mathematics, we believe the proliferation of WhatsApp presents an absolutely vital opportunity to publishers. As of the time of publishing, you have the chance to be among the first British publishers utilising the platform in this way. You should take it.