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Users liked the immediacy of news content popping up on their phone but wanted more granular ability to choose what content they receive, writes BBC World Services & Global News Apps Editor Trushar Barot on the lessons learnt from its Indian Elections messaging pilot.

Earlier in April this year, BBC News had launched a pilot (or an editorial experiment as the company calls it) through which it was pushing out audio bulletins and other updates related to Indian elections via WhatsApp, WeChat and BBM. 

On WhatsApp, BBC setup an account and invited users to send a message to a specific mobile number to subscribe to the service. Subscribed users were then put on a “broadcast list” wherein they received upto three updates a day, in both Hindi and English. These included audio & video clips and daily text bulletins.

On the election day, BBC transformed it into a live breaking and analysis service, sending more than 20 items to subscribers on the day. This included breaking news alerts and analysis from correspondents in its Delhi bureau. It also apparently used cartoons and humorous viral videos.

On WeChat, BBC took a slightly different approach wherein it sent a single message with bundling all its headlines and story links that users could click to read the story. Users could also choose to read latest stories from various categories like technology, world news and business news which was delivered through RSS feeds from its site.

WhatsApp most engaging but requires lot more work

Elaborating on the learnings from this experiment, Barot said that WhatsApp offered the most direct engagement with the audience, however we feel this is probably because BBC’s approach on WhatsApp was much better and more personalized than on other messaging apps.

Barot however notes that it took them a lot more time on WhatsApp since it doesn’t have a desktop version, due to which all the editorial activities had to be done through a mobile phone. It also doesn’t provide any stats beyond the number of people on their broadcast list.

In comparison, WeChat and BBM all have desktop versions and admin tools which apparently made it easy to post content and manage audience responses. It also apparently provides basic stats to measure audience growth and reach. However, Barot hasn’t disclose any specific details on this.

Using Emoticons as reaction to stories

BBC also used a series of emoticons in a specific story and apparently asked users their reaction to that story. Barot claims that hundreds of people sent in their responses to this story, due to which that story had the highest engagement in terms of responses, across all items it posted on WhatsApp.

Social Media-only news service

BBC Thai

Yesterday, BBC also announced it has launched a social media-only news service for Thailand region last month. This was after a military coup from Royal Thai Armed Forces in May 2014, following which International channels including BBC World News TV were temporarily taken off air.

The company has setup a Facebook page called BBC Thai which will apparently provide local, regional and international news in audio, video and text. BBC says the content will be published in Thai and English.

BBC is using Facebook notes to write news stories, besides the regular Facebook updates. It is also using Audioboo for audio clips and regular interviews. The company claims to have generated more than 450,000 interactions (comments, likes or shares) until now.

That being said, we feel Facebook is not the best platform for regular news publishers. The platform seems to have lost the virality it once had and the company has also significantly reduced the reach of news updates with the intent of trying to get community owners to pay to improve reach.