What’s up with radio stations using WhatsApp?

WhatsApp with its little blue ticks is an essential way to communicate and radio stations have integrated it seamlessly into the way they’re interacting with their audiences.

Initially, I was skeptical about WhatsApp and radio, as it appeared stations were using voice notes to replace real callers and natural interaction for something more polished — but it seems as if the balance has been struck and WhatsApp is actually allowing more people to have their voice heard on-air than ever before.

So, how are stations using the Facebook-owned messaging platform on-air and does it offer any possibility for advertisers?

Basic messaging platform

A potential stumbling block for WhatsApp could have been the fact that numbers are 10 digits long and not as easy to say on air, compared to easier, five-digit short-code SMS numbers. Not so, as stations receive thousands of WhatsApps everyday for a variety of reasons — from competition entry to song requests, interaction with presenters and a way to send questions to guests, it’s the go-to platform.

In the competitions we’ve run with stations, we don’t see any significant drop-off from SMS response, compared to WhatsApp.

Voice notes

A really great way to get people on-air without having to go through the jammed phone lines is through voice notes. Easy to send and with a sound quality good enough to broadcast — better than a phone line, in fact — more people are able to get their voice on air.

As a listener or contributor, you’re able to self-edit and only send the note once you’re happy and pleased with the point you’re making. It’s a win-win for everyone, as messages are more concise, thought-out and give the on-air product an interactive and engaged feel without compromising on programming gloss.

From a programming aspect, it’s an amazing low-tech way of conducting broadcasts and crossings. 5FM’s Roger Goode did a broadcast from Ibiza purely through WhatsApp voice notes and, during the Comrades Marathon a few years back, East Coast Radio compiled a number of its roadside crossings via voice note when there was a glitch back in the studio. In both cases, listeners were none the wiser.

News alerts

The EWN brand on the Primedia stations has a thriving WhatsApp broadcast group for breaking news and “in case you missed it”’ content. It’s a one-way conversation between EWN and the user, not “spammy” and pushes through loads of multimedia content through links back to the EWN site.

The signup is a little clunky, needing you to add EWN as a contact and then having to verify with an SMS, but this is more to do with WhatsApp’s lack of user-friendly options, rather than EWN.

Constant interaction

Dudu Khoza of Ukhozi FM tells how, for many years, she did a three-hour show and that was it until the next day. Even with social media, the demand on her time was not as much as with WhatsApp. She finds herself being added to listener WhatsApp groups and happily interacts with the people on the group who are fans and embrace her as part of their lives.

It offers a presenter a chance to extend a conversation or campaign beyond the time allocated on-air with a smaller, engaged audience who aren’t going to troll you the way they can on Twitter or Facebook.

WhatsApp soapie

Sanlam developed a soapie made entirely for WhatsApp. Episodes were sent out on the platform using voice notes, emojis, texts and photos to tell the story.

The campaign was hugely successful, making a case for radio and WhatsApp and demonstrating that listeners appreciate the one-on-one aspect, and that they can now extend popular radio segments onto other platforms and the ability to share.

But what about Telegram?

On the face of it, Telegram is a messaging service much like WhatsAppIt was the first messaging app to roll out end-to-end encryption, and the first mainstream messaging app to fully open-source its client code and provide 100%-open APIs for third-party app and bot developers. WhatsApp is limited in comparison but has massive reach and is only going to get bigger and, importantly, more advertiser-friendly.

Algoa FM has switched over to Telegram completely as it allows it to build insights and analytics on audience. From what we’ve seen, the Algoa audience has adopted Telegram as the station have educated listeners about it, and the response to promotions and competitions is comparable, showing that, as long as the station backs something, the audience responds.

I’ve seen WhatsApp setups in stations that range from high-end, standalone, content-aggregating software to some stations simply having a dedicated smartphone or tablet in studio. In the end, as long as listeners are able to get in touch with a station and as WhatsApp evolves, allowing the station to interact with them more intimately on that same number, the platform will continue to be popular.


by Paulo Dias

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