Yesterday, popular messaging service WhatsApp announced the launch of WhatsApp Business, which it says it has designed with small businesses in mind, to help them communicate more easily with their customers. It claims it will also make it more convenient for its 1.3 billion users to chat with businesses that matter to them.
Business who make use of the app will be able to create and manage business profiles, much as they would with a Facebook page, and include basic information for customers such as a business description, their email or physical addresses, and website URL. The app also offers messaging tools, enabling them to craft quick replies that provide fast answers to frequently asked questions, greeting messages that introduce customers to the business, and away messages that let customers know when they are busy.
WhatsApp Business will also unlock desktop functionality for businesses, meaning they won’t need to use the Android app exclusively to send and receive messages. Messaging statistics will also be available for businesses to review simple metrics such as the number of messages read, so that they can easily see what’s working.
Additionally, WhatsApp Business profiles will be labelled as such, so that users will be fully aware that they are talking to a business. The platform says that over time, some businesses will receive Confirmed Accounts, once they’ve been able to confirm that the phone number on the account matches the phone number of the business. Verified businesses will feature a label indicating that they’ve been verified.
For consumers, they will be able to continue using WhatsApp as usual and there will be no need to download anything new. Individual users will continue to have full control over the messages they receive, with the ability to block any number, including businesses, as well as report spam. According to reports, businesses will only be able to contact people who have provided their phone number and agreed to be contacted by the business over WhatsApp.”
WhatsApp Business is free to download on Google Play in Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, the UK and the US. The app is rolling out around the world in the coming weeks. Currently there is no mention of an iOS release yet.
What does this mean for businesses?
Facebook acquired WhatsApp for approximately $20bn in 2014. At the time the messaging platform held just $10m in revenue, and industry insiders were sceptical how the social network would get its money back, let alone generate any revenue from it.
Towards the end of last year, WhatsApp revealed it was gearing up to finally monetise its messaging service, and Chief Operating Officer Matt Idema told the Wall Street Journal that “we do intend on charging businesses in the future”. Although the launch version of WhatsApp Business is free for small businesses, it’s safe to assume that paid features are on the horizon, for larger enterprise businesses most probably (such as airlines, ecommerce sites, and banks), with the potential for more advanced features to also come at a cost.
There’s little doubt that messaging apps are extremely popular right now, and WhatsApp is already a successful customer service tool for businesses. For example, Morning Consult says that 80% of small businesses in India and Brazil that are on WhatsApp indicate that the messaging platform is helping them communicate with their customers and grow their businesses. WhatsApp users are also incredibly engaged, sending more than 55bn messages each day, so the business version holds lots of potential.
For small businesses not already utilising WhatsApp, now would be the time to familiarise themselves with the platform, if it makes sense within their region. Particularly at a time when there is widespread industry concern surrounding the change in Facebook’s algorithm for business publishers, it makes sense to be broadening the net and considering all social engagement opportunities available.