Messaging apps emerge as growing force in news sharing

WhatsApp

Users are increasingly looking to messaging apps as a source of news, where peer-to-peer sharing cuts through the noise of social media, according to Reuters Institute for Journalism's latest Digital News Report.

Although more than half of respondents (54%) use social media as a source of news, the report detailed that growth in social media for news is flattening out in some markets, while messaging apps that are more private and tend not to filter content algorithmically are becoming increasingly popular.

Overall, around a quarter (23%) of the 70,000 respondents across over 30 countries said they now find, share, or discuss news using one or more private messaging applications.

Of the respondents 15% use WhatsApp as a source of news, compared to 8% using Facebook Messenger.

The use of WhatsApp for news is starting to rival Facebook in a number of markets including Malaysia (51%), Brazil (46%), and Spain (32%).

“At first glance, fake news seems the most obvious reason here – as the report itself shows, ‘only 24% respondents think social media do a good job in separating fact from fiction’,” said Lucy Barbor, head of digital at Carat UK.

“However, it goes deeper than that. Consumer trust, not only in the original news source, but in the platform the news is shared on and the people it is being shared with, is ever more critical. Beyond the borders of our own UK Brexit social media battles, users all over the world are increasingly being pulled in ‘us vs them’ arguments over comments on news posted across the likes of Twitter and Facebook. This creates a negative platform experience for most involved.”

More than one in ten (14%) now say social media is their main source of news. But 33% said they can’t rely on the news they see to be true. According to a recent EBU study, broadcast remains the most trusted media source throughout Europe.

However, Facebook still remains the most popular social media and messaging service for news engagement in all but two countries - Japan and South Korea - where YouTube and Kakao Talk dominate.

The use of Facebook for news fell in more than half of all the territories where a year-on-year comparison was possible, whereas by contrast, WhatsApp is now the second most popular social service for news in nine of the 36 locations, and the third most popular platform in a further five countries.

The report revealed that almost a third of the total sample (29%) say they often or sometimes avoid the news. For many, this is because it can have a negative effect on mood but for others, it is because they can’t rely on news to be true.

“You’d have a hard time arguing that social sites, most prominently Facebook, are losing users because of publicity around fake news. What is changing, however, is the way we share news. There is a clear divergence in how people are consuming and sharing content on social media especially amongst young people,” explained Callum McCahon, strategy director at Born Social, pointing to the agency’s recent Exploring Social Report which found that although 97.3% of 23-34 year olds have an account on Facebook, only 17.8% of them actively share their own content to the platform.

“This explains the rise in sites such as WhatsApp for news curation – it’s not that people aren’t sharing news, they just aren’t doing so publicly. We’re entering a new era of curated sharing. Young people are sharing content more actively than ever, but in smaller, more carefully considered groups. Why? People feel less comfortable sharing openly, in public, to their entire network. This rise of ‘dark’ social lends itself to platforms like WhatsApp,” he added.

There has also been a significant growth in mobile news aggregators, notably Apple News, but also Snapchat Discover for younger audiences. Both have doubled usage with their target groups in the last year. Meanwhile voice-activated digital assistants like the Amazon Echo are emerging as a new platform for news, already outstripping smart watches in the US and UK.

Keane Angle, director of strategy at 360i Europe points to the trend of friends filtering the news for one another, which he believes to be driven by recent global political turmoil and uncertainty: “This uncertainty naturally drives discussions in real-life, which therefore naturally make their way onto platforms built for discussions, such as WhatsApp”.

“Of course, as always, it’s imperative for marketers to be cognizant of this shift as it’s people’s way of saying “I’d rather not have your irrelevant message in my face”. Skill sets involving empathy and understanding of the human condition have been, and most definitely will be in the future, crucial for marketing success," he concluded.

Robyn Darbyshire

Robyn Darbyshire is a content editor at The Drum, writing and editing across print and digital editions as well as helping to manage production processes. She looks after Creative Works, Trending and Shelf Life in the magazine.

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