Share don't shove: New York Times learns Whatsapp the hard way

Jul 27, 2015

Source: Mobile Leaders Alliance Earlier this month, The New York Times made waves with their experiment in sharing news updates via the messaging app WhatsApp. Readers would enter a phone number to subscribe and would then receive short bursts of news updates. The subject matter of the experiment was the Pope and the content included up-to-the-minute updates from the paper’s Vatican desk. This reminded me of one thing: Twitter. The New York Times has emerged in leading the trial of new technologies, creating various mobile apps and was one of the first to tackle creating content for the Apple Watch. This made a ton of sense, as the Apple Watch consumer closely aligned with the New York Times avid reader. I even commend them for being innovative and tackling different ways to reach readers, however they seem to have missed the mark with their latest effort. WhatsApp has essentially digitized word-of-mouth advertising. The power behind the platform is that content gets shared by consumers directly with their closest network. The key to using the messaging app successfully is learning how to take advantage of these organic in-app behaviors. This is a great example demonstrating the difference between pushing and sharing content. The New York Times misused the application to push content to individuals rather than creating viral activity, via sharing, that would have increased their reach. What’s worse is that, those who attempted to opt-out, were met with a poor user experience. With the fragmentation of media and the increased popularity of social messaging apps over social networks, it is important to first think about the user experience and subsequently how the inherent utility of the app can help build stronger one-to-one relationships with consumers. Having been in the mobile space for over 10 years, I find it is this channel that is probably the most misunderstood or possibly overlooked at what its real potential could be. Mobile is the most personal medium as it gives advertisers the opportunity to reach consumers in the palm of their hands on the one device that never, ever leaves their side. Consumers develop an intimate connection with their phones as they have become integral to managing all aspects of life. The most important of which is communication, the ability to connect with others. As marketers it is important that we respect that personal connection and, as mobile companies, it is critical that we provide guidelines and use cases for good and bad practices. Personally, I am not the biggest fan of push notifications as I see them as ineffective and often intrusive leading to a disconnect with a consumer. Instead, I advise clients to create ads around experiences that are catered to the consumer that they are trying to reach. The message has to be poignant and engaging and the execution has to be seamless to the user experience. If advertisers can engage one consumer, the next step is to allow them to create a natural “push” distribution via sharing with their “real” friends, which is far more effective. In the case of The New York Times, I would have suggested a different execution. Instead of sending the news updates directly via WhatsApp, they should have advertised to connect with them via Twitter to receive the updates they were going to share. And this message who found this interesting could then share the message with their network, create a campaign that would have seemed more seamless to the environment. In the end, however, I truly commend The New York Times for leading innovation and experimenting with WhatsApp. Mobile is now the first screen and it is tests like these that will keep the industry moving (and hopefully jumping) forward.

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