Like PR professionals, publishers are constantly looking at the trends, wondering what’s next and how they can better reach their target audiences. Publishers need to look at where their readers are digesting news and, with the growing, ever changing landscape of social media and mobile, it may be hard to keep up sometimes.
At the end of 2015, it was reported that 2.1 billion people use a messaging app, according to Portio Research. The rise of messaging apps - WhatsApp, Kik, Viber, Facebook Messenger to note a few – present a new way to get in front of readers – 2.1 billion of them. For publishers, the challenge is how to crack into this huge untapped channel that’s often seen as secretive and private (for example, Kik is an anonymous messaging app).
Messaging apps are different than social media platforms: there’s no news feed so there's no central, obvious place to push content to users. So publishers have had to get creative. Take, for example, the Washington Post which has used Kik's Promoted Chats to attract readers through quizzes and game-like experiences hoping that its light-hearted content would drive brand awareness among Kik's younger user base.
The BBC News, on the other hand, largely uses Facebook-owned WhatsApp for user-generated content and information gathering. For example, during the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, BBC News used its WhatsApp account to gather reader photos, videos, and first-hand accounts that it later repurposed on its live news blog.
Another example is The Huffington Post which just joined Viber's Public Chats — a feature that allows publishers to publicly share real-time conversations between their journalists — in an attempt to reach the messaging app's over 250 million monthly active users (MAUs) that are located in Russia, India, and the Middle East. The Huffington Post claims that it now has almost 18 thousand followers for its Viber Public Chats.
Messaging apps are growing by the day and users are not only active, but also spend considerable time in these apps. On average, chat apps keep users engaged for over 30 minutes per session, according to a 2015 study commissioned by Kik. And it’s looking really good for publishers on these apps. According to a 2015 MEC survey cited by Digiday, 79 percent of messaging app users claim they are likely to engage with brands during their chat app experience. If they’re interested in brands on the apps, there's a good chance they’ll be receptive to publishers doing the same.
So what does it mean for PR? We’ve become accustomed to tweaking our messages and content for the social age and weaving messaging apps into our strategies, campaigns and content will be a new frontier for us. Ultimately the challenge is how to take advantage of the opportunity to either influence the content that publishers are sharing or how to insert our own content into the messaging app stream. Another challenge will be measurement figuring out, for example, how to determine the volume of eyeballs our stories and content achieve on, say, WhatsApp and the impact of that "coverage." Perhaps publishers will add share buttons so users can share stories directly to their favorite messaging apps, or maybe the apps will come up with a measurement method. That’s what’s so exciting about new technologies like these breaking into the mainstream, you never know what’s coming next -- and it keeps PR people like us on our toes.