Following its landmark acquisition by Facebook earlier this year, WhatsApp is having something of a moment. The messaging platform secured the kind of PR you just can’t buy last month, when it helped to reunite a man who had been missing for four years with his family (full story here). And if the app’s popularity was ever in any doubt, you need only look to the outrage among Windows Phone customers when it was removed from the app store for two whole weeks.
Now, various pundits are starting to think publishing could be next on WhatsApp’s agenda. In a recent post, Ricardo Bilton at Digiday highlighted USA Today’s sports blog For The Win as having set an interesting precedent; the proportion of traffic driven by WhatsApp increased to 18% in a single week after the introduction of a WhatsApp share button to the mobile site. That figure is made all the more impressive when you consider that only 13% of FTW’s mobile traffic comes from Twitter.
“This has opened our eyes,” said Jamie Mottram, USA Toda’s content director. “Clearly, there’s an audience and behaviour here that we should tap into.” Other companies experimenting with sharing via WhatsApp include the popular news source BuzzFeed and music app Shazam.
According to the latest figures, WhatsApp currently boasts 400 million users who send up to 50 billion messages every day, compared to Twitter’s 255 million monthly active users. A report by Mary Meeker, an analyst at Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, also suggests that private messaging apps like WhatsApp, WeChat and Snapchat are potentially better suited to sharing than “broadcast-oriented” platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Vine.
Danny Wong at Shareaholic believes that leveraging WhatsApp as a source of traffic is going to take more than simply adding a WhatsApp share button: “In order for WhatsApp to begin generating meaningful referrals for publishers, publishers need to think of WhatsApp as a platform for distribution, and readers must regularly want to share things with their friends on WhatsApp.”
In other words, we’re not there yet. And the fact that WhatsApp doesn’t integrate with third party systems, or make traffic metrics readily available, will only cause further complications. But with 400 million potential consumers to reach, it probably won’t be long before publishers start thinking of ways to overcome these minor hurdles.