Narrowcasting: What Digital Marketers Need to Know

2018 promises to be a big year for digital platforms that facilitate more intimate communication.

Part social network, part messaging app, these channels allow people to send messages to individuals or small groups of friends, as text, images, or video. Snapchat, Instagram Stories, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp are all great examples, and they represent a growing share of consumers’ social media usage.

The growth of platforms that facilitate communication among small groups, referred to as “narrowcasting,” is a distinct shift in how most brands and organizations use social media. In the past, social media use has focused on using digital technology to broadcast information to large groups of followers. But as people’s use of narrowcasting social channels grows, brands will need to participate to stay relevant. This will require that marketers adopt new, creative approaches to content that fit within their overall digital strategy.

Trends in Narrowcasting Content

Last week, I discussed narrowcasting with marketers at a PRSA National Capital Chapter workshop. In preparing for the workshop, I reviewed narrowcasting content for stand-out tactics among brands, organizations, and Federal agencies, to identify commonalities in the content tactics used. Here are four types of content I found used frequently, or used with great success, across Snapchat, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram Stories:

1. Audience engagement. In this type of content, organizations actively engage with their followers, such as by asking followers to submit content to be featured on the brand’s channel, or asking followers to vote or take another type of action.

In the example below, @DogsofInstagram asked its followers to share photos and videos of their dogs enjoying summer. It shared a selection of the images on its Story. This tactic helps DogsofInstagram create new content, and gives exposure to the dogs featured, which is a big deal, because DogsofInstagram has 4.1M followers.

2. Customer service and sales. The private nature of narrowcasting makes it a good channel for customer service, and automated chatbots can make that easier to execute.

In 2016, Birchbox enabled its followers on Snapchat to call them using the phone feature and ask any questions they might have. The brand received 30 calls in the hour, mostly from non-subscribers, which was a great opportunity to explain the benefits of subscription.

3. Information sharingInformation-sharing uses storytelling to convey information, behind-the-scenes content, messaging, etc., to followers. This type of content was particularly well-used by organizations and Federal agencies.

In the example below, the U.S. Department of the Interior shows several national parks’ efforts to protect turtles, providing more information about turtle behavior and the parks in the process through Snapchat posts.


3. Advertising and paid. Whether you’re looking to grow brand awareness, send traffic to your website, generate video views, or another objective, narrowcasting platforms offer a number of paid solutions.

Below are examples of advertising on narrowcasting platforms (from left to right): Instagram Stories, Facebook Messenger, and Snapchat filters.

Getting Started with Narrowcasting

There’s a lot to think about when considering how to integrate narrowcasting tactics into your digital efforts:

  • Will narrowcasting tactics help you reach your target audience? These channels are largely used by a younger, digitally savvy audience – is this who you need to reach?
  • How can narrowcasting tactics help you reach your overall communications objective? Think about how you can structure your efforts in a way that moves you closer to those objectives, and consider how your existing channels can support the tactics.
  • Do you have the resources to do narrowcasting well? Do you have enough staff time? Do you have, or can you make, the right assets?
  • How will you measure your success? Measurement is extremely important in understanding whether you’re making an impact, but narrowcasting tactics often don’t offer robust metrics. You can get creative with it, but it will be a challenge.

Participating in narrowcasting is likely to become a necessary part of brands’ social media footprint. But by understanding what content works, and how to harness this trend as a part of your overall digital strategy, content marketers will be able to better ensure success.

Emily Zeigenfuse, M.P.H.
Senior Digital Strategist

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