It has been announced that a standalone ‘for business’ version of Facebook’s WhatsApp messaging platform will soon be made available.
Although many businesses have used WhatsApp for communications with customers, suppliers and other stakeholders, the new ‘WhatsApp Business’ has been developed to focus specifically on connecting businesses, especially large enterprises, with customers in a consensual and value adding way.
WhatsApp Business will be free for small businesses and there will be a paid-for version for enterprises with a global customer base.
Since Facebook acquired WhatsApp in 2014 for $22 billion, the platform has grown to the point where 1 billion people use WhatsApp every day. The company is, therefore, now looking for ways to monetize the app which, although was developed for use by individuals, is now being widely used by people in business, and in large and small organizations as a collaboration tool for staff.
This move by WhatsApp is also designed to gain a march on rivals in what has become a battle for the attention of consumers by messaging apps including Apple’s iMessage, Facebook’s Messenger, Kik, Slack for business, and others.
Prior to the announcement, the signs that a business version was on the way were visible. For example, last year WhatsApp was given document sharing capabilities e.g. for the sending and receiving of PDFs, and it desktop clients for Windows and Mac OS were developed. Also, Facebook made moves towards business customers with the Workplace social network platform launch at the end of 2016.
WhatsApp Business will work using a verification system i.e. using verified profiles so people can identify a business from another person (similar to Facebook’s own grey badge for business pages). For example, if you see a green tick badge next to a contact’s name, this shows that WhatsApp has verified that the phone number of this contact belongs to a business account, and you as an individual user can then block that account if you’d like to stop that business from contacting you. Businesses will only be able to contact people who have given them their phone number and agreed to be contacted by the business over WhatsApp. Also, consumers will have to opt-in to notifications via WhatsApp when providing their phone number through e.g. a company website.
WhatsApp has aimed WhatsApp Business at companies operating on a large scale with a global customer base e.g. airlines, e-commerce sites, and banks. The initial vision is that these businesses could use WhatsApp Business to provide customers with notifications e.g. flight times, delivery confirmations, and other updates. To get more of an idea of the huge potential of WhatsApp Business, examples of how WhatsApp is being used by businesses and other organisations include:
- There have been reports that UK National Health Service doctors already use WhatsApp (and SnapChat) to send sensitive patient information and that UK diplomats even use WhatsApp for apparently confidential discussions.
- Back in 2013, in Absolut Vodka’s marketing campaign to promote their Limited Edition Absolut Unique collection, anyone wanting to win these tickets had to use WhatsApp to contact an imaginary bouncer and convince him to let them go.
- Dutch airline KLM has become the world’s first airline with a verified WhatsApp account (announced last week), and is using it to offer customers world booking confirmation, check-in notification, boarding pass, flight status updates and the ability to ask questions in 10 different languages.
Strengths of WhatsApp
The key strengths and advantages that WhatsApp that could help fuel the success of WhatsApp Business include:
- WhatsApp has a huge international user base.
- It supports a wide range of phones, and is, therefore, very popular in areas with costly SMS fees e.g. Brazil, Argentina, and Malaysia where 60 % of the population uses WhatsApp (it is the most popular alternative to SMS in 109 countries).
- Many business users are familiar with and / or have already tried using WhatsApp for some aspect of their business or marketing.
Still In Beta
For now, WhatsApp Business is still in beta testing, and WhatsApp is testing new tools through a closed pilot program. Those interested in testing the business tools can fill out an online survey on their blog and may be contacted as part of the testing program.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
WhatsApp Business offers businesses / brands (particularly larger ones) huge potential in building a relationship with their customers on a 1:1 level. The huge user base of the app, its speed and reliability, and the verification system of the business version could provide new opportunities for businesses that are able to harness it in a value-adding and engaging way.
The examples mentioned earlier (KLM’s use of the app for flight confirmations and updates, and brands using the app on competitions) are just the tip of the iceberg for the potential of WhatsApp Business. In industries such as hospitality for example, WhatsApp could be a perfect way to enable customers to book a hotel room, get customer support, and even access an on-site member of staff such as a concierge. Retail brands could use the app for many purposes in addition to just shipping confirmations.
Many tech and business commentators are saying that 1:1 messaging is the future of personalized commerce and post-purchase customer service, and WhatsApp Business is well positioned enough, and widely used enough to provide opportunities for businesses worldwide to improve their communication and relationship marketing.