What’s next for WhatsApp?

Ever since twitter became X and descended into culture war chaos, we’ve had a news-shaped gap in our social media channels. We’ve explored other platforms but still haven’t found our fix.

Mastodon proved to be clunky and complicated. Threads is lovely but vague, with overlong posts and crucially missing the breaking news element we crave.

TikTok is fun (anyone following the Lib Dem election campaign will testify to this) but has a question mark over its trustworthiness. Instagram is great for niche viewing (cats? cleaning? comedians?), and for watching videos several days after they’ve appeared on TikTok. But it’s not great for fresh news.

Now there’s a new kid in town. WhatsApp Channels (find it via the Updates button) was launched at the end of last year. We all know it’s foolish to predict the future of anything – especially the success or otherwise of social media apps – but it’s worth taking a look at this anyway.

WhatsApp is hugely popular – it’s the most used social network among UK internet users. People like it because they enjoy sharing content with groups of people they know or share an interest with. And we know that “people like me” are seen as one of the most trustworthy sources of information.

So how does it work? WhatsApp Channels is a one-way broadcast platform. It offers limited engagement – people can respond with emojis (from a given selection) and forward posts to friends and family, but that’s it. There’s no need for moderation, and posts are deleted in 30 days.

It’s great for organisations with large, dispersed audiences. A quick browse through the main players show there are a lots of media organisations and football clubs among the early adopters. And local authorities, regulators and charities are also finding it useful.

Content is trial and error at the moment, and analytics are sadly lacking. But it’s ideal for sending out news messages and announcing something that’s about to happen. Memes, photos and polls go down well, which means it could play a role in place-shaping and community building.

Granted, users have to get into the habit of using the new platform. My energy supplier set up a channel to inform customers of their energy-saving hours, which were announced last minute. I hadn’t set up any notifications, and often found out too late. But I learned.

The search engine is not exhaustive, so you need to promote your channel actively to alert your potential users, and accessibility seems to need development. But it’s early days yet.

Take a look at what it can offer you as a user, and what it could offer your customers. If we use it well, it could be a handy way of filling that news-shaped gap.

You can also download our handy guide to WhatsApp Channels here.

Susan Fox is the author of the chapter on housing association communications in the book “Promoting Property”, published by Routledge.

 

Would you like some help with your communications? We’d love to hear from you. Contact us hello@houghbellis.co.uk.

Bobbie Hough
managing director, Hough Bellis Communications