Why texting should be part of your mobile strategy

10 November 2020
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Publishers today know the importance of meeting their readers where they are, which is increasingly on mobile devices. However, beyond optimised websites and native apps, there has been little innovation in the past decade. That’s changed recently, as publishers have experimented with distributing their content on WhatsApp and directly texting readers.

To better understand the value of directly messaging subscribers, today we’re digging into 3 global case studies that can serve as inspiration, from Tampa Bay Times in the US, to Mail and Guardian in South Africa, and The Telegraph in the UK.

Tampa Bay Times: Bridging the print to digital journey with SMS texting

Another American newspaper finding successful with texting is Tampa Bay Times, powered by Advance’s Subtext technology. This year has accelerated their digital transition, with a decision taken to reduce print to 2 days per week. Their digital readers are increasingly accessing content through mobile devices: 70% of readers visited the homepage via mobile in the past 30 days. Even the least savvy digital reader likely has a mobile phone today and has experience with texting. To help with their digital transition, the team decided to use a texting strategy.

They used the presidential election as the focus of this experiment and gave it the name of “ConText 2020“. The name comes from the desire to provide a more comprehensive view to subscribers, as well as tying in the name of the primary voice behind the texts, political editor Steve Contorno.

In the run up to the election, subscribers would receive a daily text message with an update on the campaign. Readers could also directly respond to the texts with comments or questions, which the team at Tampa Bay Times was able to respond to via a browser-based CMS. While they expected to get more responses to the conversational texts signed “- Steve”, they still received replies to the straightforward updates as well.

To measure their success they set a goal of 500 subscribers (equivalent to about 5% of the audience for Steve Contorno’s politics newsletter). In the beginning, this new texting option was promoted mainly on social media. Once the promotion was included in the print newspaper and ePaper, sign-ups grew as well and they surpassed 500 subscribers. It is very interesting to see how Tampa Bay Times has helped to bridge the print to digital journey with this texting experiment; we will be curious to see how this develops past the election.

Mail and Guardian: WhatsApp-first digital editions

Forget being digital-first or even mobile-first, Mail and Guardian in South Africa is WhatsApp-first with their digital edition, The Continent. This weekly newspaper packages quality journalism from across Africa into a format that is easy to read and share on WhatsApp. This digital-only edition is designed to look like a high-quality broadsheet, laid out on a PDF the size of a postcard, with articles trimmed down to about 250 words for an improved reading experience on WhatsApp.

The Continent is a free publication and the team encourages readers to share with others on WhatsApp. It’s also possible to sign up for a newsletter with the edition or download it directly online. One of the reasons WhatsApp was chosen as a distribution method is due to the rampant spread of disinformation there. While WhatsApp itself has taken steps to help curb this spread, it is important for trusted, quality news brands to be active on this platform as well. Readers can also check their understanding of the week’s news with a quiz in every edition. As a way to understand how readers are engaging with this product, the answers to the quiz are only shared by direct message on WhatsApp.

The audience has really appreciated having fact-checked journalism to share on WhatsApp as well, in just the first month of launching this new digital edition, The Continent already had thousands of subscribers across Africa.

The Telegraph: Audio experiments on WhatsApp increase conversion

In the UK, The Telegraph stands out for their audio experiments on WhatsApp. Aimed at commuters, these low-tech briefings come out at 8 am and 5:30 pm. This is likely an outcome of a very interesting role at The Telegraph focused on ‘commuter editions’. In addition to the two minute audio briefing, the message includes the links to the mentioned articles.

This product has been successful in both converting new subscribers and increasing the frequency of existing subscribers. Users of this WhatsApp briefing are 12x more likely to become paid subscribers, and people who read the linked articles end up reading 2x the number of articles than an average reader.

A key factor behind this success is that it taps into one of the most effective ways to build habit: being where your readers already are every day. Many people already have a habit to check their phones during their commute, so this WhatsApp news briefing helps provide something to fill that time.

As readers increasingly consume news on mobile, the importance of SMS and WhatsApp will continue to grow. This is a still relatively unexplored area so we will continue to follow new experiments on these platform.

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