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News from Messenger? A Cross-National Comparative Study of News Media's Audience Engagement Strategies via Facebook Messenger Chatbots

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journal contribution
posted on 24.11.2022, 16:40 authored by Xinzhi Zhang, Rui Zhu, Li Chen, Zhirun Zhang, Minyi Chen

As an emerging audience engagement channel for news organizations, news chatbots can interact with and attract audiences in a conversational manner. The present study applies the comparative digital journalism frameworks and examines how society-level factors—such as media systems and information communication technology’s development—explain chatbot implementation on social media platforms. We surveyed 365 news organizations across 38 countries or regions and inspected their Facebook Messenger accounts with a mixed-methods approach. We found that less than half of the surveyed news organizations implemented Messenger, and only 67 Messengers were responsive—i.e. able to produce at least one response. We used the walkthrough method to interact with the Messengers with 22 pre-defined search queries on information seeking and navigation related to COVID-19. Then we used qualitative content analysis to examine the contents generated by the Messengers. Some Messengers are out of service or could only provide limited services (e.g. generating templated responses or closed-ended options). The Messengers in different news organizations demonstrated great variations in their capacity to understand the queries and interact with the audiences and reparative strategies to handle search failure. We proposed a three-category typology of news chatbots and offered practical and constructive suggestions for news organizations.


This work is supported by the Interdisciplinary Research Clusters Matching Scheme (IRCMS) (project number: IRCMS/19-20/D05) by the University Research Clusters, Hong Kong Baptist University granted to the third author; and the General Research Fund (GRF) (project number: 12602420) by the Hong Kong University Grants Committee granted to the first author.