Undeniably news and social media have developed an interconnected – if sometimes perilous – relationship. While certain platforms have encouraged citizen journalism, the real-time nature of others has changed the meaning of breaking news. Stemming from such social media platforms is a more personal service: messaging. While newsfeeds and timelines are inundated by brands almost as much as friends’ newborn baby pictures and travel adventures, the private messaging service of each of these platforms has so far remained sanctimonious. However, now, CNN has waded into the private messaging territory through the likes of Facebook Messenger, LINE and Kik, to bring news to audiences in a more personalized way. Not only that, it’s also an indication of users’ relationship with a brand when they choose to add the CNN Channel to Facebook Messenger – a place usually reserved for connecting with friends and family. It also turns news – a typically one-way form of communication – to a more engaging medium as people make inquiries over text and stickers for Facebook Messenger and LINE. However, this is only the beginning for CNN, which is exploring ways to enable those chats to happen via voice-activated technologies like Alexa, Watson, Siri, Cortana, and OK Google, and then have Anderson Cooper return the most relevant, most current audio or video response.
Following this move, we caught up with CNN’s chief product officer, Alex Wellen, to glean insight into this new form of news delivery and drawing the line between news and noise.
Why these three apps?
Facebook: We’ve had a relationship with Facebook and it helps in reaching a global audience at scale.
LINE: It was critical in helping us understand how we can publish in newer creative ways [using] everything from stickers to streams to specific message alerts.
Kik: It is widely popular in the US among millennials and even younger audience segments.
Can you elaborate on how this works and how much of it automated?
The theme in all our products has been the right mix of automation and curation. It’s always about the story first, and then, how we say it. So, it’s the creation of the content and how we program it for the platform. We identify the story we want to tell, adapt it for the platform, and then use bots to further that conversation.
On a daily basis when you come to the app you see the Top 5 stories, which will differ on each platform because the Top 5 stories are specifically identified as a good fit for each platform. This gives you a glimpse of the high-level summary that we write specifically for each app and then if you want to read the full story you can click and go there too.
Additionally, there’s also (1) News for you: suggested stories using the recommendation engine, and (2) Ask CNN: you can ask about any stories through natural language or keywords.
Why personal messaging for a news broadcaster?
Messaging brings a one-on-one intimacy as well as [allowing you to] broadcast a message at scale. You have friends and family right there [on the app] with us as a brand. The aspiration is that as a user, you can have a quick conversation with CNN. So it’s very personal but there’s also a broadcaster mentality.
Is there a fear that consumers may find it too personal?
There’s always a risk that you’re going to overwhelm or over-message. It’s a combination of the brand and the publisher getting it right. We think long and hard when we tap you on the shoulder or in your pocket, so we want to stand in the shoes of the consumer and understand how little or how often they want to be contacted.
Consumers have the option of not receiving alerts, and we’re talking to messaging apps to see how granular we can get about the notifications.
Moreover, there is a difference between personalizing news and a personal experience… it’s all about context. There are a lot of data points depending on how much the user shares so we should give them opportunities to dial up or down the type of content and frequency and so that dance is important and we don’t take it lightly.
How has the experience been so far?
It’s been a remarkable journey. We have launched an app that’s in 230 countries. We have been able to overtake brands – such as BuzzFeed, Mashable and TechCrunch – that have been on the platform for a year in just a month. It’s a testament to how much [CNN] the brand resonates with this new audience, and it’s also about understanding how to be authentic and not just repurpose content from other platforms.
We are staffing up to focus on platform publishing… everything from messaging to social to off-platform publishers like Apple News, Google News and Snapchat. You look at this new ecosystem and there’s so much changing that we had to add resources in editorial, product technology, and programming. We just announced a $20 million investment in CNN Digital [globally] with hundreds of new jobs and a big chunk of that investment is in off-platform publishing.
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