KEY POINTS

  • Messaging apps are massive; as such, they're becoming an important new platform for publishers. The top four — Facebook's Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat, and Viber — claim nearly 4 billion monthly active users combined, according to BI Intelligence estimates, more than the top four social networks, including Facebook.
  • Publishing have established a presence on a number of chat apps, spurred by a mandate to reach audiences wherever they're consuming and sharing content. Publishers like The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, and the BBC are experimenting to learn which chat apps work for their audience and how they can leverage chat for the distribution of digital content, including articles, images, surveys, and video.
  • Chat apps are especially appealing to publishers because they allow these brands to tap into users' "dark social" activity. Dark social refers to web traffic that can't be tracked through web analytics programs. This type of traffic stems from people sharing content privately through IM programs, messaging apps, and email, among other means.
  • Because chat apps were once primarily used for peer-to-peer communications, publishers have an opportunity to reach audiences on these platforms through a more conversational exchange. Content can be posted either publicly or privately and pushed to subscribers or pulled at a reader's request. In addition, content can be published on a messaging app either as native content or linked content that sends users back to the publisher's own property. 
  • There are dozens of messaging platforms, each with distinct user demographics and features, and these differences will determine which apps a publisher should try and what type of content is most fitting. For example, LINE is popular in Asia and has a multitude of features publishers can tap into. Kik is popular in North America and offers publishers an opportunity to develop bots that can be used to pull content.
  • Chat apps do present a number of key hurdles for publishers, especially since most of these platforms were not built with them in mind. Challenges include lack of data sharing, lack of content management and distribution tools, and low levels of discoverability.

Introduction

The top four messaging apps claim almost 4 billion users in total, narrowly outnumbering the combined active users on the world's four largest social networks, including Facebook. The significance of those numbers has caught the attention of a wide range of businesses, publishers among them.

News industry leaders [...]