In many parts of the world WhatsApp has become like breathing; we don’t give it much thought.
It’s such a big part of our lives, we just about overlook it entirely. This was not the case for Mark Zuckerberg in 2014. Facebook bought the up-and-coming platform for close to US$20 billion and just, well, carried on living life. Or so we thought. Many industry onlookers were wondering how in the world Facebook was going to make all that money back.
In January this year, the company finally launched WhatsApp Business. Offering small business owners an opportunity to establish themselves on the platform. Businesses were able to set up profiles, save & reuse responses, and optimise answers to messages through message statistics.
A fast and convenient way to communicate with a small pool of existing customers, yes. But it wasn’t anything new. Small business owners were already, albeit unofficially, communicating with their customers via the platform. The release of the separate app for businesses just made an existing trend more official, rather than adding more value.
It’s the series of announcements that followed in August, that have really got the industry talking. We round up five of the latest developments from WhatsApp that have the potential to change the mobile game for customers and brands.
1. Release of the WhatsApp API: Throwing the media into its first frenzy was the release of the API in early August, targeted at larger enterprises. The API (Application Programming Interface) is the glue, or rather connection, between apps, data and devices. The release of this API is just the starting point to realise dreams of automation and integration with other platforms and systems. For example, at the most basic level, businesses would be able to connect their WhatsApp Business account with social media management platforms, like Hootsuite & Sprinkler, optimizing workflow and communication.
2. Verification Pilot Program: Just like Twitter’s blue tick, WhatsApp Business announced that they would be assigning green badges to businesses they can confirm are legit. The instructions are already up on the WhatsApp Business FAQ page, however the program is limited to a small number of businesses, with no further updates on when another intake is possible.
3. WhatsApp partners with Google: WhatsApp and Google have struck up a deal; WhatsApp users can now back up their conversations, photographs and videos on Google Drive without it eating into their 15GB of free storage. After the announcement both companies came under fire; this free storage comes at the cost of losing end-to-end encryption of your messages. However, the bigger question we should be asking is, what other developments can we expect, or hope for, from a partnership between two of the biggest tech companies of our time?
4. WhatsApp Payment: Although currently limited to India, WhatsApp released its first pilot payment solution to a small number of users this May. Through Unified Payment Interface (UPI), a system that facilitates inter-bank transactions, users can conveniently make and receive payments from people on their contact list. Unlike a regular transfer, UPI’s transfers are immediate, no 3 hour window period needed.
5. Advertising in WhatsApp Status: According to a statement from WhatsApp, in 2019 brands will be able to advertise to their 1.5 billion users through WhatsApp Status ads. The WhatsApp team told TechCrunch, “WhatsApp does not currently run ads in Status though this represents a future goal for us, starting in 2019. We will move slowly and carefully and provide more details before we place any Ads in Status.” Why Should Brands Care?
All of this tinkering offers new avenues for brands and customers, both now and in the future, that goes beyond automatic greetings, responses and notifications.
Firstly, with the release of the API, businesses will potentially be able to integrate their WhatsApp Business user data (from ad response and customer messaging data) with their CRM (Customer Relationship Manager) data. This would allow brands to build out a holistic, single view of their customer—who they are, the things they’re interested in and what they need from your brand.
How WhatsApp decides to incorporate advertising into Status is yet to be seen. However, it has the potential to totally change the social network ecosystem, enabling companies to tell interlinked brand stories and provide a more fluid, interconnected experience across Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp for customers. This would reinforce Facebook as a force to be reckoned with in the world of digital media. It’ll be interesting to see the ad formats that are rolled out on WhatsApp in 2019.
With the recent data breach of the Facebook platform, data security and authentication are even more crucial for the consumer. While WhatsApp is allegedly unaffected, Facebook has a long way to go in giving piece of mind to its customers around the security of their data. When sharing personal and private information across platforms, customers want it to be easy, convenient and secure.
With data security and authentication guaranteed, the possibilities for the user have great potential across industries. For example, in a healthcare scenario, patients could update hospital records or receive test results directly via WhatsApp messaging. And considering the number of hoops one often jumps through to transfer money to friends (fiery hoops for friends that bank with a different bank to you), simple payment features are a turning point from regular bank transfers. This change also benefits brands as the steps to make a purchase could be cut down considerably.
It seems Facebook has been busy monitoring the evolution of messaging platforms globally before making its move. Since Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp, we’ve already seen WeChat and Line quickly evolve from messaging apps to entire digital ecosystems.
According to Bloomberg, Tencent, WeChat’s parent company, has a market cap of US$540 billion. That’s US$20 billion more than Facebook, so it must be doing something right. However, the majority of WeChat users are from China, leaving the rest of the messaging world untapped.
This is where WhatsApp & Facebook come in. Can WhatsApp create the same success in the West, or does WeChat also have plans for global domination? We’ll have to see how it plays out, but one thing’s for sure, the mobile messaging space is going to experience an exciting transformation in the coming year. Brands, keep watch as only a select few are likely to gain early access and enjoy first-mover advantage.
Jason Fashade (left) is managing director, social, and Holly Falken is associate strategist at Ogilvy Hong Kong.