CHANNEL SHIFT: A complete guide to WhatsApp Channels for the public sector

WhatsApp Channels is poised to become a truly game changing tool.

For the first time organisations can use Channels to use WhatsApp at scale to reach an audience. 

This isn’t private messaging it’s provate broadcasting.

Given that more than 50 per cent of the UK population uses the messaging app this opens up a new vista of communication.

Yes, there’s an audience on WhatsApp

WhatsApp chugs on in the background being an entirely effective way of talking to a small group of people. It’s also widely used by everyone from families, work colleagues, professional networks and other communities.

It’s also not just young people or older people. It’s all demographics as Ofcom data shows.

Table 1. UK WhatsApp by demographic 2023 (source: Ofcom)

What WhatsApp Channels is

Basically, Channels is a new piece of functionality in a new area of WhatsApp. You’ll find it in updates.

WhatsApp describes it: 

“Channels are a one-way broadcast tool for admins to send text, photos, videos, stickers, and polls. Channels can be found in a new tab called Updates on WhatsApp – where you’ll find Status and channels you choose to follow – separate from your chats with family, friends, and communities.”

WhatsApp blog

It’s also one way and yes, its GDPR compliant

If you’re an admin fed-up of getting abused when you post something then this will be a pleasant change. It’s broadcast. It’s one way. So there’s no replies that others can see and nobody else can see the names and phone numbers like you can in a standard WhatsAp group chat. 

So, it’s not going to offend GDPR.


Updates can be forwarded on

One part of the WhatsApp Channels functionality that hasn’t been highlighted is the ability for people to forward on a message. For me, this misses much of the point of Channels. An update about recycling really should have a call to action to forward to people who live in that area. This can hugely amplify the reach of a message.

There’s a layer of privacy

Interestingly, Meta have made great play about the privacy element. Updates stay on servers for 30 days and then disappear. Admins can stop people from taking screenshots directly from users phones.

This absolutely follows the trend of walled gardens

At first, social media was all about the town square where different voices could be brought together. Then people started shouting and people got a bit fed up of that. The trend has been towards walled gardens where people are happier to be. So, messaging tools have been part of this trend. For Meta to now launch Channels really puts the accelerator down on the walled garden idea. If they could move Facebook pages into a private space maybe they would. This is the next best alternative. 

But how are brands using WhatsApp Channels?

Firstly, WhatsApp Channels is being limited to big brands right now so there’s no real public sector use.

The first few weeks has been a time of experimentation and I’ve taken a snapshot of football teams, news providers, arms of the UN and Meta themselves have been using the platform.

NamePostsFollowersTextMemePic VideoLinks
UNICEF Supply1231k0.1
UNICEF Parenting2723k0.19
Politics Joe23.5k0.19
Real Madrid1314.1 million0.37.03
Lad Bible1589k0.
BBC News6542k0.3
Manchester City87.7 million0.40.2
LBC Radio218.30.2
WhatsApp122.3 million0.001
Mark Zuckerburg48.8 million0.6

Take a bow Real Madrid who have been acing it so far.

What works for them are images with text. I’ve used this as a definition of a meme. It’s quite loose, I know. But images with a message on have been working really well for them with an engagement rate of more than seven per cent. That’s an astounding figure and one that I think we can all learn from.

The images have set out starting XIs, celebrated a moment from the game or an achievement.

What’s striking for me is that clearly, Real Madrid seethis as a global channel. So, there are kick off times posted on an image that go around the world.

I’ve never seen that before.

What’s not effective… links aren’t effective

Newsweek have absolutely gone link crazy. There’s 44 posts over a four day period and a breakneck 10 or more a day on average.

That feels way too much.

While links can be posted onto the platform which ia real shift in approach from WhatsApp it’s clear that this strategy of volume and links isn’t working at all. There’s an engagement rate of 0.02 per cent.

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

It will be interesting to see how the platform evolves.

Using WhatsApp Channel as the public sector

As far as what type of channel tro create the jury is out.

The organisations currently using Channels are established and are using Channels in the same way they’d maybe use other channels.

I wonder if the public sector may fall into a bear trap if they use their corporate name. I live in Dudley. Do I want Dudley Council on my WhatsApp? Hmmmm. Local government with its 1,200 services struggles to get all residents in all what it does.

Besides, councils are pretty unpopular organisations.

So, to use the Dudley example, I’m not sure if I want all updates, thanks.

But Yorkshire Dales National Park, for example, I may sign-up for updates for visitors. Places to go, images, short video clips and events that’s maybe something I’d be interested in.

Do I want the date and time of the next national park meeting? Do I heck.

Give me video of waterfalls and landscapes.

Creating a WhatsApp channel

Not everyone has the functionality yet but when you do, this is what Mashable says:

Creating WhatsApp channels is as straightforward as forming WhatsApp groups. If you’ve received the update that introduces WhatsApp channels and you wish to create one yourself, follow these simple steps to establish WhatsApp channels.

Please note that not everyone may have the option to create channels at this time. Stay tuned for future updates, but if you have the channel creation option, here’s how to proceed:

  1. Navigate to the ‘Updates’ tab.
  2. In the Updates tab, tap the plus icon (+), then select the “New Channel” option.
  3. Tap on ‘Get started’ then add the channel’s profile picture and description.
  4. Once you’ve completed these details, select ‘Create channel,’ and your WhatsApp channel will be created.
  5. Share the invite link through messages, email, or the web to invite people to join the channel.

How to Adjust Channel Privacy Settings

While creating channels, you have the flexibility to choose whether your channel should be private or public. If you inadvertently select the wrong option during channel creation, here’s how to rectify it:

Tap on your channel’s name or profile picture at the top.

  1. Scroll down to access channel settings.
  2. Select ‘Privacy settings.’
  3. Adjust the privacy settings from private to public or vice versa as per your preference.


The dashboard of insights an admin can see looks pretty varied. However, I’ve not seen one in the wild yet but the first impressions is that this is pretty detailed.

It’ll be interesting to see how this evolves.

Getting followers

Right now, the direct route is for people to find your channel via their own WhatsApp with them navigating to updates and then searching.

That’s not the most obvious way for people to find you.

Interestingly, Real Madrid while they are kings of Channels don’t have a single link, follow button or reference to their Channel on their website.

The Daily Mail, who have a sport WhatsApp Channel, are promoting sign-ups via a link through a story which takes you through to the WhatsApp site.

Having a link feels like the way WhatsApp for Business generated followers with its link, QR code and the ability to synch a Facebook page to WhatsApp.

I deliver ESSENTIAL COMMS SKILLS BOOSTER workshops where I go into using channels like WhatsApp in more detail.

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