The Bulletin Blog

What Is Messaging and How Can Media Companies Use It?

Mark Zuckerberg said it himself: “Messaging is one of the few things that people do more than social networking.” That was back in 2014, and messaging has only grown since.

But what exactly is messaging? Just how popular is it with today’s internet users? And how can publishers tap into this rising trend to use messaging apps for content distribution? We’ve answered these questions and more below.

What is messaging?

Messaging is a type of online chat that offers real-time text transmission via the internet. Messaging apps initially rose to prominence by offering a low-cost or free web-based alternative to text messaging (SMS). Over time they have evolved into multimedia hubs which now support photos, videos, games, online payments, and chatbots.

How popular is messaging?

Messaging apps have reached more global users than traditional social networks, and more people are now using messaging apps than SMS texting. As of July 2018, the top 9 messaging apps garnered roughly 5.8 billion monthly users worldwide. WhatsApp, one of the most widely used messaging applications, reported that 65 billion messages were being sent by users per day in May 2018. That’s over 45 million messages sent every 60 seconds on WhatsApp alone.

How can messaging benefit publishers and journalists?

The exponential growth of messaging apps hasn’t gone unnoticed. Recently, messaging apps have captured the attention of a wide range of businesses, especially publishers and new media outlets. According to the Reuters Institute’s 2018 Digital News Report, the average use of messaging apps for news has more than doubled in four years. These findings “highlight the move of audiences, particularly younger groups, to more private apps for reading and particularly discussing news.”

Focus groups held in the United Kingdom, Germany, Brazil, and the U.S. have revealed why messaging apps might be better at facilitating interaction with content. Readers are being put off by toxic debates and unreliable news on social media, and are finding that messaging platforms offer more convenience, greater privacy, and less opportunity to be misunderstood.

For publishers, messaging apps offer a way to complement existing social media strategies via a direct channel that is not subject to changing algorithms or the platform’s hold on paid advertising.

How can publishers distribute content on messaging apps?

There are three main ways to publish and broadcast content using messaging platforms: groups, channels, and bots.

1. Groups

The simplest way to publish content is to create a group of users who wish to receive content. Many platforms (Telegram, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, etc.) allow publishers to create groups. Members of a group can react to content or even publish their own content, making this means of content distribution good for encouraging engagement and fostering a sense of community. The challenge that can arise with larger groups, however, is that they can become very “noisy” and challenging to maintain. Users might “mute” groups, or leave altogether if they start to receive too many notifications.

One example of a brand that successfully publishes content using groups is Adidas. Adidas created a community of young, hyperconnected soccer fans in several cities around the world. This exclusive group, known as the Tango Squad, gives members access to exclusive events, star players, and limited edition merchandise. Members then share these experiences with their social circles and serve as grassroots influencers that promote the brand. Each squad has only a few hundred members each, making these groups manageable and bringing the brand meaningful reach to an authentic soccer community.

Journalists can also use groups to play a more active role in moderating different communities on certain subjects, according to Mark Frankel, a social media editor at BBC News. Messaging groups (rather than social media groups) are especially important for journalists in countries like India, where WhatsApp is as widely used for news by politicians and activists as it is by members of the public. As Frankel writes, “It’s vital, then, that journalists have a ring-side seat.”

Most messaging apps allow access to groups, however, each group has different size limits. Currently, Facebook Messenger allows 150 group members at once. WhatsApp allows 256 members per group. Telegram offers supergroups of up to 10,000 users, with several admin management tools. And Viber recently announced the launch Viber Communities, with group chats of up to one billion members.

2. Channels

Channels, or Broadcast lists, are supported in some messaging platforms and allow interested users to subscribe or to be added to a list. When content is published on this list, everyone in the list receives the message, but they are unable to interact or engage. This gives publishers more control over content, making channels easier to sustain – and keep on track – than groups. Depending on the platform, metrics related to channels and broadcast lists can be limited and inconsistent. Another flip-side to this distribution method is that the size of a channel is often public. Still, channels can be a good option when no interaction is needed with the audience, and basic metrics are enough. Publishers who broadcast messages using channels or broadcast lists should focus on Telegram, WhatsApp or Viber.

3. Chatbots

As organizations recognize the increasingly important role that messaging is playing in digital marketing and content distribution, they are learning that the best way to automate these processes is through chatbots.

Chatbots are software programs that automate tasks that would otherwise require human labor. Unlike other forms of automation, chatbots are specifically designed to provide automated services in a conversational format. For publishers, chatbots can be used to automatically send interactive content that meets the consumption habits of today’s users. Chatbots can be customized, meaning that it is possible to collect far more detailed analytics than with channels or groups, where data is limited. The interactive nature of bots also allows publishers to gain valuable insight into users’ reaction and response (as opposed to just the number of users who have viewed a message). Because they offer a two-sided conversation with the user – not just another impersonal notification – chatbots lead to a much higher level of engagement and satisfaction. While chatbots are more expensive to create than channels or groups, the higher engagement and customization pays off in dividends.


As interest in messaging continues to rise, so will the presence of publishers on this important channel. By knowing what messaging entails – and how to use messaging apps as publishing opportunities – you can begin to devise the best strategy for content distribution on messaging apps. 

To learn more about how messaging apps have emerged as a powerful new platform for content delivery, check out our blog post, Social Networks and News Media Made the Perfect Pair – What Happened?

This blog post can be found in our eBook, Streamlining Content Delivery with Messaging Bots. For a free download of this eBook, click here.

Cristina Sobregrau