Why Chat Apps May Be the Next Big Driver of Referral Traffic

Think all of your social traffic is coming from Facebook and Twitter? Think again. Nieman Journalism Lab just shared a case study about the impact of chat apps—and it may just shed some light on your “dark social” traffic.

Spanish soccer team Valencia CF has been quietly tracking mobile shares on its club site, and next to the usual share buttons, you can find a button for the Facebook-owned messaging platform WhatsApp. Remarkably, it’s pulling nearly half of all sharing taps (48 percent) on mobile for Valencia CF, compared to 25 percent for Facebook, 15 percent for Twitter, and 11 percent for Google+. And overall, WhatsApp is generating “more than two-thirds” of all mobile visits to Valencia’s site.

The mobile messaging app is proving itself to be much more than a free way to text. Nieman Lab reported media outlets like BBC are embracing WhatsApp as a viable platform for sharing news, calling it and its ilk “mobile-first social media sites.” BuzzFeed and Shazam have added a WhatsApp share button to their mobile sites, and earlier this year, BuzzFeed revealed it was getting more taps from its WhatsApp button than from its Twitter button.

As BuzzFeed’s former president, Jon Steinberg said, “Every time we looked at WhatsApp’s numbers, it blew us away.”

Maybe this social dark horse’s power shouldn’t come as a surprise. It certainly has momentum: WhatsApp has reached 450 million active users faster than any company in history, and it’s still going strong.

Messaging apps are considered to be one of the major culprits of dark social, a term conceived a few years ago by Alexis C. Madrigal, former senior editor with The Atlantic. The analytics gleaned from messaging apps and secure sites is limited; with WhatsApp in particular, sites have access to click data but not referral data, so there’s no way of knowing whether a consumer shared your story with two people or twenty. This lack of insight prevents sites from determining exactly where their users are coming from—a problem that burdens publishers and their advertisers alike.

Given the curious case of Valencia’s traffic, WhatsApp may explain the untraceable visits reported by publishers like The Atlantic and the Guardian. “With roughly 600 million active users, WhatsApp easily could be driving some of the ‘dark social’ traffic,” says Danny Goodwin, managing editor at Momentology and former associate editor of Search Engine Watch.

Could chat apps be on their way to usurping Facebook as the primary drivers of social traffic?

The chart below, created by the Guardian and provided to Business Insider, suggests it’s time to take a closer look.

DarkTraffic_ ChatApps

If your traffic looks like this, it may behoove you to add a WhatsApp button to your mobile site. It’s also a good idea to consider how your content optimizes for chat apps like WhatsApp, WeChat, Snapchat, Kik, and Tango. “At the heart of it all, regardless of whether it’s people sharing via WhatsApp or another messaging or social networking platform,” Goodwin says, “the key is publishing outstanding content targeted to your audience.”

In a story we ran earlier this year on The Content Strategist, writer Sam Petulla recommended marketers think of each piece of content as a direct channel of communication to a brand: “Marketers can no longer rely on one-way, impersonal broadcast mediums to just dump content on people.”

Nor, it seems, can they overlook the rise of the mighty chat app.

Image by Javier Brosch

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