A decade ago, The Power Of Pull described the amazing outcomes possible when we have the tools to find and access the people, content, information, and resources we need. Pull was seen as the mechanism that would put people in control. It would give them more choices and more information to make those choices.
Today, pull has been turbo-charged by mobile, a transformative technology (the impact of which the authors could not address in their book, so I will here). Mobile has become our collective default state. It eclipses all other digital technology and enables us to do exactly what the authors hoped we would: “collaborate in a complete re-imagination” of our experiences. From content to commerce, and from advertising to advocacy, mobile has left an indelible mark.
You could even say that, thanks to mobile, the Power of Pull has finally arrived. But it’s the advance of messaging apps and platforms that takes this to a new level. Pull brought us the toolset and the mindset to take charge of our content and experiences. Mobile amplified this ability exponentially. And messaging is giving us a new environment to experience both.
A new wave
The first wave of messaging saw the emergence of what I will call pull content, delivered primarily via app notifications. In this scenario, individuals granted permission and volunteered preferences (the choice of news categories, the frequency of alerts and notifications, the level of personalization). And that they opt-in is a must for audiences increasingly concerned about personal privacy. For this reason, content companies that delivered pull content could build trust and brand. In retrospect, it was this reach and impact that allowed the first wave to deliver scalable efficiency.
The second wave of pull, powered by mobile messaging apps and platforms, is destined to be even more transformative because it promises scalable connectivity. Messaging is a platform where companies can deliver interactive, personalized, and conversational experiences. And they can do it affordably at scale.
Messaging is also free to consumers. It also vastly reduces the blight of unsolicited communication. That’s because, as a rule, messaging platforms do not permit companies to send bulk messages as they can via SMS. And it’s growing in popularity. Analysts forecast that the volume of messages sent via the major messaging platforms is expected to exceed the number of SMS text messages by as much as 10x in 2020.
Pull and pictures
Messaging apps and platforms provide an ideal space for companies to forge relationships with audiences and drive connection with brand fans. They have also become the epicenter of our most frequent digital activity: messaging. In August 2018, app market intelligence provider Apptopia reported users globally spent a whopping 85 billion hours in WhatsApp over a period of just three months. (Compare that to 31 billion hours spent on Facebook).
Messaging platforms have experienced explosive growth in users and usage, outpacing some of the biggest social media channels. Together, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger alone have nearly three billion daily active users– that’s almost half the planet. In 2018 the Big Four messaging apps (WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat and Viber) had 4.1 billion combined users. A whopping 72 trillion messages were sent across these platforms (compared to 1.6 trillion searches on Google).
However, people aren’t just messaging more or more often. Empowered by pull, are using the universal language of pictures. People share more than 4.5 billion photos, 1 billion videos, and 80 million GIFs per day on WhatsApp alone. A comprehensive analysis of people’s messaging behaviors on Facebook Messenger (conducted by Facebook) reveals that nearly 60% of respondents have sent emoji-only messages to communicate a concept. What’s more, over half indicated that messaging has replaced all other forms of communication.
United by their passions and interests (supported by a shared visual language), this audience craves instant access to what matters. There’s no room for trial and error. Content must be hyper-personalized, highly visual, and always to the point. Against this backdrop, messaging platforms offer the perfect petri dish to experiment with new approaches around content design and distribution.
Bite-size is back
Messaging platforms also unlock the potential of content companies to satisfy our appetite for bite-sized content. That means short videos, short-form content, graphics, and memes. Content that might feel out-of-place in-app or online is at home on messaging platforms. Media companies and publishers need no convincing. In fact, some new organizations are encouraging audiences to visually enhance the conversation.
The Washington Post, which distributes snackable news content via Viber, a messaging app used by more than one billion people worldwide, has had remarkable success with a series of news-related stickers. The packs count more than 2 million downloads since they were first launched in 2016. “The stickers we’ve created allow users to say what they want about news without having to type a complete thought and simply add delight and character to their conversation,” Amy King, Design Director of Emerging News Products at The Washington Post said in a recent interview.
The Washington Post is just one of a long line of news organizations — including the BBC, The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, HuffPost, and Financial Times — that are experimenting with messaging apps as an additional distribution channel. For many, the primary focus has been on providing short news updates and links to related and relevant content. However, some companies have zeroed in on the interactive nature of messaging platforms. They’re adding a new dimension to bite-sized news and leveraging yet another aspect of pull: two-way conversation.
Micro-newsletters for mass audiences
Bloomberg has harnessed WhatsApp to send messages every day and hear back from users directly, Katie Boyce, Managing Editor, Digital, Bloomberg, stated in an email interview. “After big news would break, we started to ask our WhatsApp audience what they want to know. We would get such thoughtful feedback that we could then incorporate it into our reporting and send back updates,” she explains. “It was a much different conversation than what we get on our public social channels. We built up a very highly engaged audience.”
It also paved the way for Bloomberg to bundle bite-sized content into personalized packages that balance depth with the demand for distilled information. The outcome was a new format it calls the “micro newsletter.” The content is longer than a push alert but shorter than a typical newsletter.
Boyce describes the content as a “very conversational update three times a day at the end of each region’s news day, summarizing the big stories of the day.” It has been so popular with the audience that it prompted Bloomberg to “create multiple sub-groups around topics like markets or the Middle East so that we could send more targeted messages.”
Using this approach, which was nominated for a SOPA (Society of Publishers in Asia), a benchmark for world-class journalism, Bloomberg has done more than grow its numbers. It has recruited and audience of advocates eager to follow the discussion no matter where it takes them.
In December Bloomberg moved its distribution to Telegram, a messaging platform projected to hit 1 billion users by 2022. (Admittedly, Bloomberg’s move was driven more by necessity than inspiration as Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, made good on its promise to crack down on what it considers “non-personal” use on the platform. In December efforts turned to the gray area of newsletters. And it ruled that publishers will no longer be allowed to send out newsletters on WhatsApp.)
Within two weeks of moving the micro-newsletter messages over to Telegram, Boyce reports that Bloomberg “gained over 25,000 followers” on the new platform many of whom migrated from WhatsApp. But efforts to leverage the popularity of messaging platforms doesn’t stop there. Bloomberg is “continuously evaluating other ways to meet users where they are,” Boyce says. It’s a smart approach in the age of pull.
Messaging is the new frontier
As we kick off a new decade, it’s critical that content creators — be they media companies or marketers — understand consumers’ growing appetite for concentrated content on their terms and in the spaces where they choose to congregate. It’s a global phenomenon that sees audiences flocking to messaging apps, drawn by the simplicity of snackable content.
It also offers audiences the opportunity to “share and discuss news, away from the toxicity of political debate that threatens more open spaces,” according to the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2019. Based on data from almost 40 countries across six continents, the report highlights this mega-trend. It notes that WhatsApp has already become a primary network for discussing and sharing news in western countries (where WhatsApp has a strong presence) as well as non-western countries including Brazil (53%), Malaysia (50%) and South Africa (49%). The upshot: “as more people use messaging services, news usage has also risen.”
Now that news organizations and media companies have an audience on these platforms, they must adopt the culture and language of these communities and capture the Zeitgeist to deliver on the promise of pull. A decade ago, companies were just beginning to develop this mindset, with the understanding that constant and instant accessibility of information was an audience demand and responding with models that would rebalance businesses and organizations to be powered by pull.
But there was a catch. We had the message, to borrow a concept from the visionary Marshall McLuhan. But without messaging platforms, we lacked the medium to deliver at scale. Today we have both. Mobile — messaging in particular — is where people spend their time. And content companies who build experiences that are right-sized and optimized can leverage this behavior to engage highly-receptive audiences.