#ONALondon Session: It just got personal – engagement via chat apps 

Speaker: Sarah Marshall, Social Media Editor, The Wall Street Journal, EMEA.

I’m going to make the bold prediction – with the afternoon still to go – that this is my favourite session. I learned so much, and enjoyed the speakers enormously although sadly I didn’t catch the name of the Globe&Mail ad hoc speaker.
Sarah (@SarahMarshall) gave insights into the WSJ’s use of Snapchat; it lunched on Snapchat Discover on January 6 2016.

Why are the WSJ doing it? 1) New and younger audiences; 2) revenue stream (the WSJ and Snapchat sell vertical ads; research shows most people also do not find ads in Snapchat annoying.)

Snapchat has 100m daily active users, of which 60% aged 18-34 and 44% are using either Discover or Live.

We publish 5 days a week on Snapchat but lots of our audience want us at the wekend. 8-10 stories per edition and a team of 5 people roughly, but they work across teams and about a third of my job is creating news for Snapchat.

The Journal publishes all sorts of content but to distinguish ourselves we concentrate on Business, Markets and Tech. We do some sport and world news but those are our 3 verticals. WE are contractually obliged to provide 5 original stories a week.

On a Friday we make an edition where the one edition tells the whole story.


How do you have a flow to the narrative so people want to swipe through? Having regular features helps the audience form a habit, and come back and know what to expect.


We have a much younger audience. We write for the platform not the audience but we know who that audience is and think about it as maybe they are at an Ivy League university or starting their first job at Goldman Sachs. We are after people who will become WSJ readers, who are ambitious. We will always have smaller audiences than, for example, Cosmo, but we will have – we hope – future subscribers.

The three key words I think every day in relation to our audiences – inspirational, aspirational, entrepreneurial.

Our audience numbers are huge and the loyalty is amazing (Sarah isn’t allowed to share the figures but stresses that this happened more or less overnight. A new loyal audience that came every day was created from a standing start). This is the biggest thing the Journal has done in terms of audience development for years.

Unexpected outcomes

How sometimes we can right stories in a much tighter way. I quite often take a 1,000 word story on corruption in Malaysia and condensing it down to key components which is maybe 300 words. Most stories can be told really well in 300 words, and the learnings of that will go out to other areas of the newsroom.

How we work across other teams – the workflows have changed. I sit opposite the people who work on Whats News and if I condense a story into 300 words that goes to them, and vice versa. When you allow teams to work together it is amazing what can happen.

There are finite places on Discover and not every news organisation can join. We started on Snapchat Stories (as TeamWSJ)

We try and ask questions we really want the answers to, or really care about.

Before we launched we asked journalists to think about pitching stories for Snapchat and then we launched… and suddenly it was really easy because everyone could see how it would work. Adding bylines also made a difference to how much people wanted to get involved.

Growing an audience is hard because it’s not shareable like Facebook, and we’ve been helped by Discover. However, you see other titles doing great stuff every day – 30% of people surveyed got their information on US elections via Snapchat. It is a slower build but it is worth the time and effort of thinking how to do it for your particular brand.

3 Takeaways from Sarah:

  1. Consider the voice for the platform
  2. Enable creative workflows
  3. Play the long game

Case study for WhatsApp:

The Globe and Mail in Toronto ran a WhatsApp campaign around the elections. Readers responded well and gave good feedback asking for more. They found it a convenient way of getting manageable information. However, it was difficult to manage the workflow. (WhatsApp limits the number of people you can add to a broadcast list). It was admin heavy but for the G&M but when WhatsApp do make it more effective for larger scale us, it will already have a leg up on competitors.

Case study for YikYak (from @james_morgan)

The BBC is using YikYak, which is extremely well established in the USA and Canada. It is anonymous and also local.

BBC thought that as it was a 98% millennial audience it would partner with YikYak and in Canada, for the elections, use the Herds feature to start a conversation around the topic.

The BBC was worried about how it would play out, but actually got tens of thousands of responses and used the best on its live blogs. More recently, with Newsbeat brands, the anonymity feature was used to discuss mental health and again it proved successful.

The BBC was concerned about verification because it was an anonymous platform, but the community is highly self-policing using the up/downvote options.

It is no longer anonymous and users can identify themselves – whether this will be a plus or kill what makes YikYak unique remains to be seen.

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