Channel 4 maximises power of social media to report Scotland referendum

By September 19, 2014 No Comments

As I write, Scotland decides. When you read, votes in Scotland’s independence referendum will be accounted for. Which means that my next sentence needs to be sufficiently ambiguous. I’d like to offer my congratulations to today’s winner: democracy.

Of course through the magic of editorial I can add that I know we’re still a United Kingdom, but mercifully I’m not here to discuss #indyref, as it is henceforth known by the tradition of tweeted nomenclature. What we’re more interested in are the innovative social media approaches being used to report it.

Shunning swing-o-meters

Opting to shun the classic model of 24 hours of TV-hogging graphics and swing-o-meters, Channel 4 News announced this week that it would use Snapchat and WhatsApp to provide real-time results and debate analyses; the aim being to break news stories on these platforms first, before the content is published anywhere else.

WhatsApp users could send a message to C4 to subscribe and receive unique content such as photos, videos and commentary from on-the-ground journalists, not just Twitter-style scrolling news broadcasts.

Meanwhile, Snapchat ‘snaps’ with 10-second windows for viewing served as constantly enticing teasers to bigger Snapchat Stories – a document of collated content over the course of the night – viewable for another 24 hours.

In content marketing terms it’s a fascinating experiment by C4 to compete with its rivals, for example, BBC News, which of course benefits from its own 24-hour news channel. The project at the very least demonstrates a stark acknowledgement of the power of social media.

C4 is also attempting to drive youth engagement in politics. The fact that 16-year-olds could vote in this referendum for the first time; a record 97% of eligible people registered to vote with an electoral turnout of 80% on the day, and that Snapchat Stories content is reportedly viewed 500 million times per day, all presented C4 with a unique opportunity to maximise the reach of its content. It says its use of social media in this way marries the excitement of immediacy and uniqueness with direct interaction and a bit of fun, to boot.

First break

In an added bid to gain a competitive edge, the news agency also announced that breaking stories would be available on WhatsApp and Snapchat before other social networks. This taps into the value and higher levels of engagement one might expect from the fleetingness of this information. A feel of exclusivity bolsters the relationship with the user; the value of being there, in the moment, as it were.

Interestingly, BBC News kind of beat C4 to the punch on this in India last July  when it reported on elections there. The Beeb invited Indian users of WhatsApp to connect on its unique WhatsApp phone number and send a message to request subscription to receive real-time election updates, by way of stories and comment, photos, audio and video.

On the whole, BBC News found that the user feedback was very positive and that this more personalised experience resonated well. Having news updates pop up on one’s phone was welcomed and users called for more control over what content they received.

The corporation found that because of its mobile-only applicability, WhatsApp actually drove highest user engagement against other networks being used, and said that it saw huge potential to engage with users as long as the content matches their expectations, is of quality and high, unique value.

Clearly, WhatsApp benefits from encouraging engagement from people that actually want to and make a conscious decision to engage – in other words it naturally creates brand ambassadors. Meanwhile what will most likely have happened by the time you read this is that C4’s Snapchat Stories centring on the debate’s breaking news will have disappeared, having exhausted their 24-hour lifespan, never to be accessed again. The 21st-century equivalent of yesterday’s news being today’s fish and chip paper?

For content to stay ahead of the game and compete with the biggest guns, corporations need the most innovative ways of marketing it. With Snapchat and WhatsApp, C4 has tapped into a unique power of social media – content marketing in a here-and-now market where they’re very much here, and completely now.

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