When Facebook bought the popular messaging service WhatsApp for approximately $20bn in 2014, some observers questioned how Facebook would ever make its money back, let alone profit.
And for good reason: at the time of the acquisition, WhatsApp had a meager $10m in revenue.
But Facebook has proven adept at monetizing not only its own social network, but another popular service it acquired for a ten-figure amount, Instagram, and the social media giant’s efforts to turn WhatsApp into a revenue generator are becoming more apparent by the day.
Case in point: WhatsApp yesterday announced the launch of WhatsApp Business. Here’s what marketers need to know about it.
It’s an Android app
WhatsApp Business is an Android app designed for small businesses. Using the app, businesses can create and manage business profiles, which are like Facebook Pages for WhatsApp. These contain basic information about the business, such as a description, email address, physical address and website URL.
The app also provides messaging tools that enable businesses to more easily communicate with their customers through WhatsApp. These tools include the ability to set up automated greeting and away messages, as well as to define quick replies for common requests.
Using WhatsApp Business unlocks desktop functionality
Businesses that use WhatsApp Business won’t need to use the Android app exclusively to send and receive messages. Instead, they’ll be able to use a WhatsApp Business web application, making it possible for them to manage their WhatsApp presence from the desktop.
It’s available in several countries to start but will be available globally soon
WhatsApp Business can be downloaded through the Google Play Store in the U.S., U.K., Mexico, Italy and Indonesia. WhatsApp says that the app will roll out globally “in the coming weeks.”
WhatsApp will provide analytics data
To help businesses better understand how their WhatsApp Business activities are working, WhatsApp will give them access to analytics data, such as the number of messages read. While it sounds like the analytics functionality will be fairly rudimentary to start, given Facebook’s experience in this area on its core social network and Instagram, expect this to be one area it develops over time.
Business accounts will be designated as such
Businesses that set up profiles by using WhatsApp Business will have their profiles labeled as business profiles so that WhatsApp users who interact with those profiles understand they’re interacting with a business.
WhatsApp is also verifying some business profiles by confirming that the phone number on the account matches the phone number of the business. Verified businesses feature a label indicating that they’ve been verified.
Businesses can’t communicate with all users
Businesses using WhatsApp Business won’t be able to contact WhatsApp users at their leisure. Instead, users must opt in to receive communications from a business. This means that businesses wanting to put the messaging platform to good use will need to develop marketing and engagement strategies that promote such opt-in.
Paid features are likely coming
Last year, WhatsApp chief operating officer, Matt Idema, told the Wall Street Journal that the company eventually plans to launch paid features for businesses. Idema did not reveal what those paid features might be but it’s logical to assume that, at least initially, WhatsApp will target paid features to larger enterprises that are more likely to pay for such features.
While WhatsApp Business is designed for small businesses, WhatsApp is also allowing larger companies like KLM Royal Dutch Airlines to interact with users by integrating their own applications into the WhatsApp platform directly.
So should businesses jump on the WhatsApp train?
WhatsApp is an incredibly attractive platform for businesses. With more than 1.3bn users, it’s larger than Instagram, which Facebook has developed into one of the most popular social platforms for marketers. WhatsApp users are also incredibly engaged, sending more than 55bn messages each day.
With usage like that, it’s no surprise that some marketers are finding success using WhatsApp. For instance, 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.
Of course, WhatsApp is a messaging app, so it’s not quite like Facebook and Instagram and shouldn’t be treated the same way. It’s also more popular in some countries than others, which will realistically influence just how successful any particular business will be on the platform.
For instance, WhatsApp is far more popular in India than it is in the U.S. So the ability of businesses to gain from their use of WhatsApp Business will probably be based in part on the popularity of WhatsApp where they’re located.
While business use of messaging platforms in the U.S. and Europe isn’t as robust as it is in, say, Asia, because of its size and Facebook backing, WhatsApp is a logical platform on which Western businesses can start experimenting with messaging and WhatsApp Business will make it easier for them to do that.