WhatsApp Business allows Facebook to capitalise on the popularity of its IM client, and explore monetisation options

Facebook is looking to recover some of that money spent in the acquisition of WhatsApp, by building features specific for businesses use.


WhatsApp has had a long journey over the eight years that it has spent on the top of smartphone store charts. Soon after the rollout of push notifications, WhatsApp debuted on the Apple App store as a status message sharing application, which allowed users to update their contacts if they were available, asleep, watching a movie, busy or in a meeting. Within months, WhatsApp updated the application to include support for text messages, videos and photos.

 WhatsApp Business allows Facebook to capitalise on the popularity of its IM client, and explore monetisation options

WhatsApp app logo. Reuters.

In the period of its initial availability in India, WhatsApp was a paid app and exclusive to iOS devices. Towards the end of 2010, WhatsApp landed on Android devices and introduced group chats soon after. By 2012, users around the world were sending more text messages through instant messaging clients, than through the SMS offered by telecom operators. At the beginning of 2014, Indians compromised of about 10 percent of global WhatsApp users, with 40 million monthly active users in India as against 430 million worldwide. At the start of 2017, WhatsApp had a staggering 200 million monthly active users in India, compared to a total of 1.2 billion worldwide.

As the largest market for WhatsApp, India is going to play a major role in the development and evolution of WhatsApp Business. WhatsApp spokesperson Matt Steinfeld has said, "We are definitely in building the product phase. So, what you will see over the year is different tests, both for small and large businesses, and figuring out what's a good experience for these businesses on WhatsApp. India is going to play a crucial role in that."

In February 2014, Facebook announced that it would be acquiring WhatsApp for $19 billion. Now, Facebook is looking to recover some of that money spent, by allowing businesses to use WhatsApp. The exact monetisation model is expected to emerge from the way businesses use WhatsApp, and from the way, users engage with the businesses that they are interested in. "Our approach is simple - we want to apply what we've learned helping people connect with each other to helping people connect with businesses that are important to them," a statement from Facebook last month said.

Matt Idema, WhatsApp COO said, "We want to apply this same approach to bringing businesses onto WhatsApp in ways that create value for people. We're looking forward to making it possible for people to connect with businesses and giving businesses the tools to make that easier to do." At the present, WhatsApp does not charge its business consumers but may introduce subscription charges in the future.

The shift comes as WhatsApp noticed that a number of businesses were engaging with their consumers through WhatsApp anyway, users would order products from their local stores, send reference images to their designers, or co-ordinate pickups and drops for ridepooling services. However, the application does not have the requisite features needed to support such activity. For example, businesses may need to stay in touch with hundreds or thousands of consumers at a time, make sure their customers know that they are in contact with the legitimate account of the business, or be assured of secure payment options when making a purchase. WhatsApp Business is designed to address exactly these concerns.

According to a blog post by WhatsApp, "We know businesses have many different needs. For example, they want an official presence – a verified profile so people can identify a business from another person – and an easier way to respond to messages. We're building and testing new tools via a free WhatsApp Business app for small companies and an enterprise solution for bigger companies operating at a large scale with a global base of customers, like airlines, e-commerce sites, and banks. These businesses will be able to use our solutions to provide customers with useful notifications like flight times, delivery confirmations, and other updates."

While the front end for the end user remains the same, WhatsApp has introduced a standalone app on the Play Store, known as WhatsApp Business. There is support for business profiles, setting an away message, provides analytics on engagement, and inform users about the timings or location of the business. WhatsApp Business is an unreleased application being tested on the Play Store, and will be improved based on feedback from participating businesses. Interested business owners can sign up for the application by filling out this survey, which does not guarantee the access to the app.

Image credit: Android Police

Image credit: Android Police

The functionality offered by WhatsApp Business is in addition to all the regular features already in the application, such as group chats, sending messages, images and videos. Business users can designate a support landline, access the service through a web browser, and enjoy the end to end encryption as well. Users can migrate their existing accounts to WhatsApp Business. The same device can be used to run both WhatsApp Business as well as WhatsApp, but each need to be configured with a different phone number.

Image credit: Android Police

Image credit: Android Police

Another feature long anticipated on WhatsApp that is going to help its business consumers is the support for chatbots. Facebook Messenger and Telegram both support chatbots, and chatbot companies are already developing intelligent agents for WhatsApp. The rollout of chatbots for WhatsApp stands to benefit both consumers and businesses. Especially large business can continue to have a persistent presence on the popular platform, and can easily automate most interactions through a natural language interface. One of the current shortcomings of WhatsApp is that it does not have a mature and thriving chatbot ecosystem, but it will not take long to catch up once the functionality is introduced, considering the popularity of the instant messaging client.

 


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