Stuff gets hip, joins WhatsApp

News websites are finding new ways to engage with their audiences, with Stuff.co.nz announcing Auckland users can now receive its news alerts through messaging app WhatsApp.

Four days in and the new service is going great guns, Auckland editor-in-chief Cathy O’Sullivan says.

“It’s really incredible the feedback we’re getting – we’re getting messages from people thanking us for the alerts, asking us questions and giving their feedback,” she says.

Those signed up to the alerts can now receive a run-down of the biggest stories in Auckland in the mornings and evenings, plus any breaking news.

WhatsApp alerts are just another way for Stuff to get its stories out, particularly to a younger demographic, O’Sullivan says.

“A lot of media companies are looking at chat apps for getting information out there, and it’s something I’ve been thinking about since I joined Fairfax,” she says.

O’Sullivan looked to overseas media companies using chat apps to communicate with their readerships before launching WhatsApp alerts for Stuff. Influences included the BBC, which was using chat apps in West Africa to share public service information, and the Washington Post, which used SnapChat during the US elections.

O’Sullivan says they were interested in moving on to chat apps because they know social media such as Facebook and Twitter are becoming quite overwhelming for consumers due to the sheer breadth of content. 

It was Stuff’s intention from the start to be “quite conscious of not pissing people off”, O’Sullivan says.

This means one alert in the morning, one in the evening, and any other alerts only if the news is breaking.

Stuff researched to work out what the best platform would be to use here in New Zealand, and found that WhatsApp has quite an active user base in Auckland in the under 35 age group, and was also the simplest to set up and use while maintaining user privacy.

Users can also respond to the Stuff notifications, messaging the publisher back directly with their opinions, feedback, and even photos. O’Sullivan says Stuff is currently replying to every message that comes through from the public.

“Which can be quite time consuming, but it is a chat platform so we want to use the platform for its intended purpose, which is to have a conversation,” she says.

The publisher has also been using the alerts to test what sort of stories people are interested in engaging with, with some surprising results.

“Things we would have assumed people would be interested might not always be correct…It’s always fun seeing what people actually read compared to what we think they’ll read.” O’Sullivan says.

For example the editors thought everyone would be interested in alerts about the weather, but found while people might be interested it was not something they engaged with. Other stories they thought were light and fluffy and potentially not of interest to everyone have been surprisingly well recieved.

O’Sullivan says engagement so far has “exceeded expectations”, although she could not say at this point how many had opted in to the Stuff alerts.

 She says they’re targeting our biggest city for the launch and the alerts are currently Auckland-centric, led from the Auckland newsroom.

“We’ll use feedback from readers to help us shape the service and the types of stories we deliver to that audience. 

“If they like the service and the content then we may look to roll it out to other areas to deliver alerts about what’s relevant to their part of the country,” she says.

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