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The Next Audio Distribution Mechanism: Facebook Messenger?

Instant messaging services have been particularly interesting to the Australian ABC as a way to quickly reach audiences

The Australian ABC, like every broadcaster and news provider, wants to make sure that as many people get to consume their output as possible � in whatever environment they want to consume it.

The publicly-funded organization has been experimenting with news headlines and alerts on a number of different platforms for a while. Instant messaging services have been particularly interesting to the corporation as a way to quickly reach audiences.

An experiment using WhatsApp was popular � possibly too popular. “We had to type each alert into an actual mobile phone,” Lincoln Archer, Deputy Editor for Mobile at ABC News Digital, told me. “It became quite popular, with thousands of people using it � but you could only send to relatively small groups of people. By the time we’d sent the alert out to the 23rd different group, perhaps the breaking news we were telling people about wasn’t actually breaking any more.”

Over a coffee in a coffee shop next to the ABC’s sun-soaked riverside headquarters in Brisbane, Australia, Lincoln told me that they’veused Facebook Messengersince November 2016.

He explained that the ABC’s use of Messenger is not just another hooked-up RSS feed, blasting news alerts out to users. There’s a different tone of voice for ABC News on Facebook Messenger � “It’s different because it’s a different medium,” he said to me.

The ABC News Facebook Messenger experience is more conversational and friendly in style than traditional bulletins or articles. Frequently using emoticons, the messenger alerts gives users “just enough” information about a breaking news story.

A message last month about Donald Trump’s tense telephone conversation with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull came with a uncomfortable-looking smiley face � another message about an airline suspending flights had a button to find out more marked “Wait, what?” A button marked with a little cute puppy allows the reader, at any time, to ask for some good news.

Since Facebook Messenger is a much more intimate experience, it was only natural that the intimacy of audio should be explored. Working with Andrew Davies, Distribution and Partnerships Coordinator from ABC Radio, the team recently made a number of pieces of original audio to accompany the network’s Oscar coverage.

Five pieces of short audio were made, presented by Jason Di Rosso from ABC Radio National’s movie program “The Final Cut” – once more, produced bespoke for the platform to reflect the different tone of voice. The audio was produced as an MP3 and sent out to

Facebook Messenger users during the week � with the audio playable directly from within the Messenger app.

The next week, they asked for feedback – and it came back overwhelmingly positive. More than 80% of people who listened to the audio liked it, according to the figures.

Interestingly, said Andrew Davies, some commented on the audio quality � perhaps because many were listening to the audio using their headphones. “Some said it was too tinny,” Andrew said, “which surprised us a little since we weren’t sure that audio quality would matter too much on this platform.”

While the audio was positively regarded from those who listened, the main learning from this experiment was that around 50% of the audience didn’t listen to the clips.

“We�ll need to think more about discoverability, and how to raise awareness about future in-Messenger experiments. In future, we�ll need to consider how we can better prepare people for audio and make it easier for them to come back to it at a time when they can listen,” Andrew added.

The ABC plan more use of audio in future within Messenger, and have encouraged users to indicate whether they want to be part of other Messenger experiments in the future. Over 10,000 have.�