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Nov. 10, 2015, 4 p.m.
Mobile & Apps
LINK: towcenter.org  ➚   |   Posted by: Joseph Lichterman   |   November 10, 2015

As the popularity of messaging apps continues to soar, major news organizations are experimenting with how to best take advantage of these new platforms. From the BBC using Viber to share news and information after the earthquake earlier this year in Nepal to The Washington Post posting quizzes and games on Kik, outlets around the world are trying new things on different apps.

In a new report out this week from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, BBC World Service mobile editor Trushar Barot and Eytan Oren, the CEO of messaging app consultancy Block Party, highlighted a number of publications’ work on social media, offer some best practices, and examine how messaging apps will evolve in the months and years ahead. Despite messaging apps’ rapid growth, Barot and Oren cautioned that news organizations might not see immediate success with chat apps.

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.

In the meantime, though, Barot and Oren wrote that among the immediate benefits of utilizing on messaging apps is a stronger understanding of the mobile experience and what type of content works on mobile:

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.

As messaging apps increase their functionality and add new features, Barot and Oren encouraged outlets to try out different services:

While a number of chat apps have their own Content Management Systems, they are still quite basic and lack many features that make it easy to create engaging content for the platform. Some, like WeChat and Telegram, have good APIs, but others, like LINE, Viber, Snapchat, and WhatsApp, don’t. This makes it currently difficult for centralized social media publishing tools to incorporate chat apps into their systems.

Having spoken to many of the messaging companies, we know they are working on improving these audience measurements and are thinking pointedly about what do with their APIs. The ones that move the fastest on these are likely to see the most investment in time and attention from publishers.

No matter which messaging app emerges dominant, Barot and Oren predict that soon messaging will become like electricity — ubiquitous and involved in nearly everything we do. “The point where a messaging app begins and ends will begin to blur,” they wrote:

Regardless of which messaging platforms rise or fall in the coming years, our messaging behavior in now deeply and culturally ingrained on a global level. We may use different apps in slightly different ways, but huge numbers of people are completely at ease with instant communication on their mobile phones, whether by text, images, voice, or video. So much so, in fact, that the behavior could be described as more firmly entrenched today than TV found itself during its golden age — after all, mobile phones are far more personal and they’re with us everywhere we go.

The full report is available here.

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