People love chat apps. With WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, and Snapchat, they stay easily in contact with family and friends. They send photos and videos. They share their thoughts and emotions.

In short: They share their lives with these apps. So why shouldn’t a news media company do the same thing?

In Germany, WhatsApp is the most used digital communication platform. More than 40 million people are using it.

In March 2015, we decided to launch a special HNA WhatsApp service for our users. HNA is located in Kassel, and is one of the biggest local newspapers in Germany with 180,000 subscribers.

With WhatsApp, we reach users as a local newspaper in their daily lives — immediately. We don’t need to wait until they visit our Web site or buy a newspaper. We are where our readers are.

We use WhatsApp to present important information with short messages every day via targeted for our users.

WhatsApp, and other social media apps, represent an opportunity for traditional publishers to reach different, often younger, audiences with chat-style communication and targeted content.
WhatsApp, and other social media apps, represent an opportunity for traditional publishers to reach different, often younger, audiences with chat-style communication and targeted content.

Users also can chat with us and give us quick, immediate information when something newsworthy happens — such as traffic jams, incidents in their town, etc. — so it enhances our connectedness and timeliness as a news organisation.

Furthermore, with WhatsApp we have the chance to get in contact with younger users und users who aren’t HNA subscribers.

We use the app to share the most important topics from our region, and of course top news of the day. Daily, we typically send about three messages between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. — not too early and not too late because we don’t want to disturb our audience.

The message is always a short text with a link to the detailed article on HNA.de. It’s also possible to send photos and short videos. In the evening, we send a daily summary with four to five topics. We cover smaller regions that may have less presence on our WhatsApp service, as well as big cities in our area of distribution.

We don’t send WhatsApp messages with a smartphone anymore. We did this in the beginning, but it was too much burden for hardware and software and took a lot of time. In August 2015, we started using a special desktop tool programmed by the German company Whappodo. It’s easy to handle all chats and contact data on this platform, and send the messages in a few seconds simultaneously to all users.

We select topics specifically to share via WhatsApp that are relevant for the users. This includes breaking news, as well as “service” news. For example, we send weather forecasts and messages if a highway is closed because of an accident.

Other content that works well for WhatsApp — and this is similar on all social networks — includes stories about emotion or crime, and Internet and technology news, such as new product launches from Apple, Facebook, or other tech companies, and of course innovations by WhatsApp.

We have about 17,000 people who receive these messages. Our WhatsApp target group is diverse, from pupils to pensioners:

  • More than 25% are younger than 35, which is pretty good given the average age of our newspaper reader is older than 60.
  • Our survey has shown that the core group of users is 36 to 55 years old.
  • Remarkably, about 35% of the users are not subscribers, but they do read news on HNA.de. Nearly 20% (!) of the users are only in contact with HNA via WhatsApp. This indicates that we have reached a completely new target group.

We are developing a strong relationship with these users. They recommend our WhatsApp service so frequently that we continue to have new registrations daily, even though we rarely do advertising.

With WhatsApp we can stay close to users’ lives. They see us not only as a newspaper, but also as a friend.

Every day we got dozens of messages. People ask us for night life tips, suggestions for treating a cold, and for our opinion on current incidents. They stay in touch with us.

Our WhatsApp community is a nice community. People are very polite. This was very surprising for us. In social networks, there can be conflict and hate speech, but not on WhatsApp. Our users thank us for messages, some of them ask every day how we are, and tell us we enrich their lives. Of course it takes time to maintain chat conversations with users — but it’s worth it.