What's Up With WhatsApp? More Than You Think

I write this column with the full knowledge that once you find out what platform I’m about to jabber on about, you might not give a sh#t. But maybe you should.

The platform in question is WhatsApp, which, to most of us American social media guru wannabes, is pretty much that thing that Facebook bought last year for $19 billion, even though its founders detest advertising so much they wrote a manifesto about it. The U.S. still remains unimpressed with it otherwise; only 8% of our mobile population use it.

Gee, it must be fun to have billions of dollars to throw around!

Nonetheless, WhatsApp piqued my interest this morning because of a small – but potentially telling – bit of data, highlighted in a post from Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab. It shows that, in some contexts, it is one of the top platforms for sharing news stories. To that extent, this data is worth illuminating, whether something similar happens with this app, in this country, or not.

Face it. Even if you’re not using it, as students of what’s next, you could do worse than watching WhatsApp. Not only is it hugely popular in some countries, but it’s also a good example of what the impact might be of social platforms that aren’t based on the social 1.0 premise of one-to-hundreds, or thousands, or millions. In a marketing world hellbent on making content go viral, it’s easy to dismiss the influence of these more closely circumscribed social tools.

The Nieman post focuses on the experiences of Valencia, the Spanish soccer team, which showed that, during a recent two-week period, WhatsApp often surpassed Facebook when it came to sharing content. (Twitter and Google+ were also part of this study, but are only mentioned here in the one instance one of them surpassed those two.) Some tasty content nuggets:

  • 33% of users used WhatsApp to share Valencia content, a close second to Facebook, at 35%.
  • When the numbers are spliced to include mobile sharing only, WhatsApp had 48% of shares, while Facebook was at 25%.
  • In terms of traffic to the stories being shared, WhatsApp accounted for 48%, with Facebook at 27%.
  • Drilling down to mobile again – and remember, WhatsApp is essentially a mobile experience -- WhatsApp accounted for 69% of traffic; Facebook was at 15% (with Twitter one percentage point higher at 16%).

If you go to the Nieman post itself, you’ll also see that includes the time when one story spiked during the period in which data was collected. At that point, the data falls into recognizable norms, with Facebook and Twitter sometimes far outclassing WhatsApp.

Does that skew the other data? Yes, but only to a point. The fact is that even as everyone chases the next viral sensation, the bigger goal is to have day-to-day content see the light of day on an ongoing basis. What this data shows is that sharing on apps with less of a broadcast nature may be much more valuable than we have assumed.

Whether you give a sh*t about WhatsApp or not, it’s something to keep in mind.

3 comments about "What's Up With WhatsApp? More Than You Think".
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  1. Alex Miller from ViaSat, November 21, 2014 at 2:42 p.m.

    I use it to text my son, who's living over in China right now. Other than that, I'm not sure I get the point.

  2. Lisa Flowers from Flowers Media Matters, November 21, 2014 at 2:44 p.m.

    I like WhatsApp and am looking forward to a more robust platform being developed. And soon, I hope.

    I recently returned from Nigeria where it is HUGE there.

  3. SANDRO MELO from FERREIRA COSTA E CIA LTDA., November 25, 2014 at 7:50 p.m.

    Not sure in US, but in Brazil WhatsApp is real hot.

    It´s quite common people having more than 5, 8 even 10 groups (some from family ones, others from co-workers, some special ones - friends that like running together or only sharing their results).

    WhatsApp is widely used for professional purposes too, you can aks for something or answer quickly without missing too much in a meeting or so.

    During the World Cup games, people were using it a lot to share comments (although Facebook as well), but there something very peculiar for Brazilians (since we like to stay connected, etc): it´s much easier to share focused messages, photos, videos to different groups when compared to FB.

    The same thing happened during the October 2014 Presidential elections.

    Best, Sandro Melo

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