Publishers have a love-hate relationship with WhatsApp. While many are seeing big numbers from the platform, they’re also wrangling with a handful of product issues that complicate how they’re approaching the platform.
For publishers such The Huffington Post U.K. and Daily Mirror, which use WhatsApp to send breaking news alerts to readers, the big challenge is the work involved in getting people signed up for the alerts. It’s an arduous process on both ends. To get the alerts, readers have to send a message to a dedicated number setup by a publisher, which is a more-lengthy process than clicking a “Like” or “Follow” button.
But that’s only the beginning of the process: To get those alerts out to readers, publishers have to add every signed up user to a Broadcast List, which is what lets WhatsApp users send messages to many people at once. That’s a long process for publishers’ small social media teams, and it’s made more complicated by WhatsApp limiting each broadcast list to 256 users.
“It’s an absolute nightmare,” said Chris York, social media editor at Huffington Post U.K., which launched its first WhatsApp trials in October. York said that process of adding and removing WhatsApp users from its Broadcast lists has been so laborious that The Huffington Post has stopped actively marketing the feature. “We’ve only just scratched the surface of what we could achieve with WhatsApp and we’re really excited to keep innovating with their platform,” he added.
Other publishers are seeing the same issues. The Daily Mirror, which started sending out WhatsApp politics alerts last week, has already felt the heat. “We don’t have the biggest team, and it’s a very manual process, particularly in comparison to something like Twitter,” said Heather Bowen, head of social media at The Daily Mirror.
But publisher frustrations with WhatsApp are in part due to the basic reality that WhatsApp was designed for small-scale commutation, large-scale broadcasting.