WhatsApp Channels – learnings from an early adopter

By Zander Mills, Corporate Communication Manager, South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service

At South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue, we’ve very recently dipped our little toes into WhatsApp Channels- a new and potentially game-changing communication channel for brands and organisations.

Most people will be familiar with WhatsApp- half of the UK population uses it.

Channels is a new feature which WhatsApp itself describes as “a one-way broadcast tool for admins to send text, photos, videos, stickers, and polls”. You’ll find Channels in a new tab called Updates on WhatsApp– separate from your chats with family and friends.

It’s different type of channel from what many communication teams will be used to. Its one way, broadcast style obviously has its limitations.

But it might be music to the ears of public service comms professionals fed up of wading through a torrent of bile every time they log on to one of their existing social media platforms.

A couple of weeks into using WhatsApp, these are our very early learnings:

  • You’ll need a phone- we already had a ‘WhatsApp phone’ which we use to share updates with a staff broadcast group. We’ve now converted this for use for our public Channel. It is currently the only way we can post updates to our channel. It looks like WhatsApp may roll out a new ‘admins’ feature in the future though, which would make it much easier for multiple team members to manage
  • Best practice is few and far between- with it being such a new channel, there’s very little in the way of ‘best practice’ from other organisations, with the most followed UK brands a mixture of news organisations and football clubs. We’ve learned that the best practice is usually your own practice though, so we’re just going to give things a go and develop our own learning as we go along

  • Experiment lots- we’re going to be trying lots of different types of content to see what works best. By analyzing engagement metrics (currently limited to reactions) and follower numbers, we hope to gain insights into the performance of our messages and refine our approach over time
  • Warn and inform- we’ve no plans to stop using X altogether as it remains the place people tend to turn to in an emergency situation, but as the number of active users wanes we do see Channels forming potentially forming part of a longer term transition away from the artist formerly known as Twitter – particularly for warning and informing our communities during major emergencies.

If you’re interested in finding out how we get on- or want to learn from our mistakes- you can sign-up to our channel here.

WhatsApp’s potential as a tool for public sector engagement is vast, so wish us luck on our journey!


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