Inquirer Group profits from chat apps that disrupt SMS model

By John Nery and Javier Vicente Rufino


Tech people revel in it. Media executives profess to welcome it. But, however you feel about it, it’s a fact of life for more and more industries.

“This is what disruption looks like,” The Economist tweeted a few weeks ago along with a chart showing messages sent via WhatsApp exceeding SMS messages.

It’s a disruption we had expected and responded to in the Inquirer Group.

Text messaging in the Philippines is entrenched and ubiquitous, as natural as breathing to more than 98 million Filipinos who use a mobile phone (or two or three).

An entire industry has grown up around text messaging – premium SMS alerts for publishers like ourselves, marketing solutions for advertisers, customer service solutions for companies that are expected to have a mobile number along with an e-mail address, Facebook account, and Twitter handle as touch points.

At the Inquirer Group, we were among the pioneers in sending premium SMS alerts to mobile subscribers. It was one of our few subscription services (most of our digital products are advertising-supported). In fact, the business looked so promising that we acquired a mobile development company and were working to further ramp up our presence in SMS alerts.

And then came the chat apps: Viber, WhatsApp, Kakao Talk, and Line. They were often faster than SMS in the Philippines and more interactive. They threatened to undermine our SMS business model.

When disrupted, the temptation is always to dig in and try to preserve an existing revenue stream. Stress the advantages of existing services. Deride the weaknesses of the disruptor. Seek regulatory relief.

We decided on a harder path: Embrace the emergence of chat apps. Turn cannibal. Adapt.

So we worked to establish official brand accounts with the chat app services that offered them: Kakao Talk, Line, Viber, WeChat, and recently Firechat. To date, were the only Philippine news organisation present on all four.

The official accounts harnessed the power of our 30-year-old brand, and we quickly gained a large number of followers. We’re now nearing 400,000 subscribers on our chat app accounts, a number that compares very favourably with our old SMS alerts base.

More importantly, we’ve also managed to get revenues from the apps. Our marketing team has found a young, highly engaged, mobile audience that we can tap through polls, rich media executions, videos, and photo galleries.

For one survey, chat apps generated as many responses as our print and Web arm. In at least one advertising campaign, one-third of the clicks on the landing page were from chat apps.

These are still the early days, of course, and one of the challenges is maintaining a presence on all the apps and tailoring the message for each one. One size does not fit all, and each chat app community is unique in what it wants. We’re learning as we go and do feel a tinge of regret as our SMS growth flattens, but at least we now have a good alternative.

What about you? Are you planning to make use of chat apps in your media organisation? If so, how?

About John Nery and Javier Vicente Rufino

By continuing to browse or by clicking “ACCEPT,” you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance your site experience. To learn more about how we use cookies, please see our privacy policy.