How publishers are getting into conversation with chatbots and messaging

Quartz chat app

Messaging apps are taking over the mobile internet, with rapid growth outpacing established social networks. Users like to communicate within a closed group, and notifications pop up on the lock screen, which is now functioning as the “new inbox.” Brands are starting to use simple chatbots for customer service, and it seems people like the more informal chat style interface.

Publishers, especially in news, are already experimenting with chatbots and using messaging platforms for distribution. Whilst revenues are currently limited, this is a channel that warrants further exploration.


Nyt, a new service from Finnish newspaper Helsegining Sanomat which targets a younger reader, started out with a newsletter on WhatsApp. It soon grew to 5,000 subscribers but this had to be managed manually with 20 separate lists of 250 subs. Nyt then built a conversational style app attracting over 20k downloads. Rather than rely on intrusive display ads, they generate revenue through sponsored content, competitions and coupons.

More on Nyt and other examples in this report from Reuters Institute.

Guardian chat bot

The Guardian has been testing out Facebook bots that present recipes from their archive, or provide a simple news update service, which can be customised by topic and time of delivery.

The Guardian recipe app is similar in style to one developed by NBC for their food brand TODAY.

A local news start-up in rural India, Rocket Post Live, has developed a news service on WhatsApp which includes video round ups and images and now has 8000 paying subscribers, and is (just about) financially sustainable.

Quartz is a mobile first news service that recently developed a chat-style app which allows users to easily browse top stories or dive deeper into a story and explore the data. Again, they fund the service through sponsored content. Quartz use notifications to draw users back into the app – once there, they will spend 1-2 minutes browsing stories.

Turkish citizen journalism project 140journos uses 15 different social platforms to distribute news while avoiding government censorship. As well as a news platform, WhatsApp is used to talk to their community of hundreds of contributors.

Business Insider has been experimenting with news services on Facebook messenger – but found it hard to build subscriber numbers, although click through rates to the website were high. Then they tested out Asian messaging platform LINE and grew to 300k subscribers in three weeks.

TechCrunch also offer a Facebook messenger bot service, which users can use to tailor alerts to their areas of interest or search on a specific topic. A carousel of stories provides an easy option to view on the web or share.

Techcrunch fbm bot


So there are plenty of early experiments going on, largely around news updates and searching archives. The integration of notifications and the chat style interface helps keep the content uppermost in users minds, and on their lock screen.

One challenge however is discoverability – much like the early days of the itunes app store. The answer seems to be cross promotion in social channels and on standard websites. Publishers are also experimenting with the tone and style of the interactions – it’s best to be informal and chatty, but users know they aren’t talking to a human, so don’t try too hard.

An advantage of messaging platforms is that it is easier to take payments for subscriptions. And Nyt does show that it is possible to fund a mobile chat style service through sponsored content and competitions.

So certainly a space to watch and, if you are feeling brave, experiment!

If you have experiences to share or would like to talk through these case studies and how you could experiment in your own business over the phone or over a coffee, please get in touch.

About the author:

Carolyn Morgan has over twenty years experience launching, growing, buying and selling specialist media businesses across print, digital and live events. Carolyn now advises publishers large and small on their digital strategy and writes and speaks on digital publishing strategy.