The Economist has been experimenting with messaging app Line, becoming the first publisher to use it to send audio alerts, a feature it claimed demonstrates why the app is more sophisticated than WhatsApp.
The publisher first launched on the app in January as part of a broader play to boost its reach on as many platforms as possible. That said, The Economist still has to be careful with where it goes in order to ensure it reach the “globally curious” audience, making Line’s popularity in fast-growing emerging areas such as Myanmar, Cambodia, South Korea, Thailand, Indonesia and Japan a more intriguing choice in comparison to WhatsApp.
Beyond the promise of better reach, it is the way the app surfaces its content to readers that intrigued The Economist team. This can happen in two different ways; via a push notification or via the homepage feed similar to Facebook Newsfeed “where you should be able to get a key takeaway without leaving the platform”, assured community editor Denise Law. The publisher’s ethos on Line is to explain the world in bitesize messages.
“The way I describe Line as a platform is a like a suped up version of Facebook Messenger but you also get to do things like make payments on it, chat to your friends, share things, buy stickers and play games. It’s like a one stop shop for everything you want to do on the internet,” added Law.
That scope has pushed the publisher to post exclus.ive content on the app that is not on Facebook or Twitter.. It’s why the Economist is the first publisher to send voice push alerts on the platform, the first of which featured the sound of the Mekong River as well as an audio clip interview with a Southeast Asia bureau chief talking about Myanmar. Further tests are on the way.
“You are not necessarily driving traffic to the site but you are giving someone something insightful and useful that adds to the user experience” said Law.
Line wants people to use the app as a way to get their news. It’s why the messaging app has been investing in “really beautifully crafted templates” for publishers to send out to users “in a way that you cannot on Whatsapp”, said Law.
What’s more, on Whatsapp a user has to login with their phone number just to get access to a publisher’s content and notifications, whereas on Line it’s a simpler process, whereby users simply search for the publisher’s page to access content.
For now, The Economist’s short-term goal on Line is not to monetise. Instead, Law said it will try to grow readership and increase awareness. Monetising audiences from chat apps is a nascent challenge for many publishers, particularly due to the lack of concrete measurement data currently available. Once The Economist is able to gather more data and learn more about the audience then Law said it will start to serve them subscription offers or try to convert them into paying readers.
The looks promising for the media owner; so far click-through rates from it are stong, at more than 2 per cent, which is “much higher than on Twitter and Facebook” claimed Law. The publisher has acquired 170,000 followers in just three months. Most of the traffic flows from the US (26 per cent), Saudi Arabia (10 per cent), Myanmar (9 per cent), Cambodia (9 per cent), South Korea (6 per cent), Indonesia (6 per cent). The UK, Canada, Hong Kong and Thailand make up the rest.
Asia is a key market for the publisher, according Law, but is a region where growing print circulation “doesn’t make sense” from a strategic perspective because people are increasingly spending time in mobile chat apps.
“We would rather try to reach new audiences on channels that they are already spending a lot of their time,” she continued.
The strategy appears to be working: digital subscriptions for the brand grew 45 per cent in Asia year-on-year.