Mobile chat apps like Snapchat, WhatsApp, Kik, Line and WeChat are being taken up by millions of people every day. But do they figure in the labours of traditional publishers in their ongoing efforts to move toward online platforms? Recent developments in the US and UK suggest that they do.
There’s a problem though: analytics software can’t identify whether chat apps are driving much traffic. They’re a source of so-called “dark traffic.” The tracking systems required to work out the precise traffic acquisition they’re responsible for isn’t in place yet.
Even so, content companies and publishers are getting interested. The Wall Street Journal has acquired 300,000 followers on WeChat and over 400,000 on Line. And BuzzFeed is openly declaring that it’s “increasingly obsessed” with WhatsApp. Which, given the scale of the user base, is hardly surprising. Globally, WhatsApp now has upwards of 700,000 active monthly users, while WeChat is China’s chart-topping social media platform and SnapChat’s user base grew by a walloping 55 per cent in 2014. The opportunities just can’t be ignored, even if they can’t be accurately measured yet.
The story of one local newspaper in the UK is illustrative. The Oxford Mail launched a news service on WhatsApp in the middle of last year (it delivers a morning mail shot with links to stories selected by the paper’s editorial team, and an evening one with home-time headlines, again with links to the most read stories of the day).
The Mail needed to do something: in the first six months of 2014, its circulation plunged by 22.9 per cent. Then the WhatsApp experiment began. This is what the mail’s head of content, Jason Collie had to say about when interviewed in The Guardian this week:
“Proportionately, WhatsApp brings in a four or five times greater conversion rate to page views than our daily email bulletin, and it’s six or seven times greater when compared to Twitter. The project has exceeded expectations both in the size of our audience and feedback from readers.
“When I launched it last year, I was thinking, if we have fewer than 300 subscribers by the end of the year it would be a failure and if we have 500 then I’d be pretty happy, so I’m absolutely blown away to have over 1,200.”