(How) do you use WhatsApp?

WhatsApp_logoI was first introduced to WhatsApp by residents of Wrens Nest who  were using it as a way to maintain communication between committee members for the Community Centre. A small team of us from different organisations have been working closely with the committee at the centre, so they added us to their WhatsApp group. I think some of the reasons it was so useful in their context was that you don’t need credit on your phone because it works over wifi, it works across all different makes of smartphone, and it doesn’t require people to be on a social media platform like Facebook (a couple of members of the group don’t use Facebook).

Our team started using WhatsApp for a number of things including:

  • Communications to and between residents who were getting involved in activities with us.
  • Practical arrangements – our most frequent one is finding out who has the keys to the community centre and where can we collect them from!
  • Team communications and updates. It has been really helpful to share updates on who we’ve spoken to and what activity has been taking place using WhatsApp. We did try email updates, but they felt cumbersome and hard work. A quick WhatsApp message can be sent on the spot, and doesn’t clog up email inboxes. Another useful function is that you can export WhatsApp group chat content via email, which we do on a monthly basis to save updates for monitoring purposes.
  • Team planning. While I’d love to be using tools like Trello and Slack, they are big step and if not already part of how you work they probably feel a bit daunting and perhaps present to much of learning curve for a project you might spend one or two days a week on. So we started to use WhatsApp to share screen grabs of planning documents shared in our GoogleDrive, this helps keep us on track, reduces emails, and nudges us over to GoogleDrive when team mates ask for contributions.

Given this experience, I was fascinated to read a blog post by Paul Bradshaw about ways that Online Journalism students had used WhatsApp to publish updates during the elections. Below are a couple of extracts which serve to highlight useful things I learned from reading the post.

WhatsApp has a Broadcast Message Function

Most people use WhatsApp to have group chats – but most news organisations don’t use this.Instead they use WhatsApp’s Broadcast Message feature to publish updates. This is because it has particular advantages:

  • Users cannot see each other’s details (particularly useful if you’re concerned about data protection issues)
  • Users do not know how many other recipients there are (useful if, as is likely, you have small subscriber numbers and do not wish that to be obvious)
  • Users are less likely to reply (useful if you don’t have the time to manage replies – although this can also be a disadvantage if you want interaction)

You can find a guide to setting up a broadcast message on various platforms here.

You can use WhatsApp to share great visually driven content

What made the BirminghamEastside coverage stand out was their focus on visual journalism: not just data visualisation and infographics but also short animated videos using Legend and mobile video journalism.

See number 5 in Paul’s post for great examples of visual content. I also loved the signup page promotion shared in the post (number 3).

Now it’s over to you. Leave a comment here, or on twitter (@dosticen), Facebook or LinkedIn with your thoughts on WhatsApp, for example:

  • Do you use WhatsApp, and if so how are you using it?
  • Are you interested in using WhatsApp now?


  1. David Wilcox · May 25, 2015

    Thanks Lorna – really useful insights. Drew Mackie and I are working in south London with community builders and connectors, and looking at team and community comms in the context of mapping assets and relationships. Maps are only useful if people can add and use info … and in addition there needs to be fairly seamless communication between people in the office, on the streets, in their homes. I’m really interested in the way short messaging and mobile may be driving things away from email, web etc. It would be interesting to plot the social ecosystem … who is using what methods, on what networks. Does it shift who is in the loop and who isn’t? For example, can people in public bodies easily join in (if you wished them to)? It sounds as if you are finding some work-arounds. Have you tried quip.com for document-based working and discussion? It has better side-bar chat than Google docs, and also one-to-one and group chats.

  2. Lorna Prescott · May 26, 2015

    Hi David

    Thank you for sharing this about your work, I’m eager to hear more about what you are doing and discovering. Perhaps you would consider posting here as a guest blogger and linking to anything you’ve shared elsewhere?

    You raise an interesting point about messaging driving things away from the web (I guess messaging includes Facebook Messenger, Twitter group Direct Messaging, WhatsApp and more). In terms of who is in the loop and who isn’t, for me it doesn’t feel much different to pre-mobile device times. Over previous decades there will have been countless community based workers who were involved in or bought up to speed on conversations between neighbours, and between residents and officers, local councillors etc. This face to face communication still dominates, in my experience, and in terms of subject matter is often focused on tensions between people, things that have gone wrong, misunderstandings, frustration with agencies etc. Group messaging simply enables some of this communication to happen when people aren’t in the same place, and tends to be relatively synchronous – conversations start up and finish within a matter of minutes. Subject matter might veer more towards the practical, and the compassionate glue that binds people together, along with the occasional argument in the timeline.

    It intrigued me that you asked by way of example if public bodies can easily join in. Thinking generally, as with face to face communication I get the feeling it depends on relationships and trust between individuals. So a community based officer with frequent face to face presence may well be trusted to be part of group chats which they themselves or others instigate. But I don’t see why a distant officer who doesn’t put time, care or energy into relationships has the right to be part of casual conversation between a group of people – wherever it takes place. I’d also flip the question – can residents/citizens easily join in group message conversations, email or casual face to face conversations between officers of public bodies? Usually no. As a resident I can’t just wander in to the halls of my council house and join in chat around the water cooler. Nor am I included in emails being sent between officers (unless they want to communicate something directly to me). Nor would I be included in messenger chats between a team of officers doing work together (unless I was seen as part of said team). Is there a risk of assuming that because of a person’s role in a vertical, hierarchal organisation they have a right to or should expect an invitation to be part of communications between people in a horizontal, peer ecosystem? (I’m drawing ‘vertical hierarchical’ and ‘horizontal peer’ from Eileen Conn’s work: http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/generic/tsrc/documents/tsrc/discussion-papers/discussion-paper-b-community-engagement.pdf) It feels as though there are lots of questions about power to be considered here – some of which you frame in your excellent Guide to Effective Participation 🙂

    So in terms of who is in the loop and who isn’t, from my experience I don’t think that has changed much from before we had the option to message from mobile devices, just as little has shifted in terms of the sorts of power people have. I think there are lots of loops, and a few folk play a role crossing between them and carrying information between them.

    Thanks also for mentioning Quip, I did have a look at it once, and may well return to it as the working habits of people around me shift. Simply using Google Drive presented all sorts of problems with council IT systems and overcoming those just exhausted us!

  3. David Wilcox · May 26, 2015

    Thanks Lorna for such a full reply. More great insights! As you say, the nature of the conversations determines who might or might not be in the loop (as always). I was a bit cryptic in my reference to officials. I was thinking of situations where messaging may increasingly be used as part of public information and referral systems, and where there may be a need to join up the two domains highlighted in Eileen’s work (love it too:-). We are looking at that sort of a situation in one area where mapping is being used to enhance asset-based community development, and provide the basis for support for families. Connections will be needed across the domains, for professionals and families. So what systems to use?
    Thanks for the offer of a guest post. Challenging! Here’s some working-out-loud ideas on social ecosystems – an emerging model using Maps, Apps and Storytelling . Any resonance? http://mediablends.org.uk/networks/ecosys

  4. Lorna Prescott · May 26, 2015

    Thanks David. Your emerging model bought to mind June Holley’s Networking Weaving ideas. I’ll have a deeper read and think later on 🙂

  5. David Wilcox · May 26, 2015

    Yes – very much in line with June’s thinking. btw the mediablends site is being tweaked at the moment … sorry if a few links are broken. Fixed soom

  6. Riya Bajaj · June 25, 2015

    Nice post. Thanks for sharing.

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