When Facebook bought WhatsApp in 2014 for £11.4bn, it understood one vital thing – we like talking to our friends. As technology has changed, so have our habits – we’re not picking up the phone to talk any more, we’re picking up the phone to text. This makes messaging platforms like WhatsApp some of the most engaged around.
Since its acquisition, there have been rumours about Facebook’s potential monetisation of WhatsApp (I’m sure they’ve already monetised some of our data), and news this week of a new business pilot is the first concrete evidence of user-facing monetisation.
New Verified Business Accounts information, spotted by several sources on the FAQs section of the WhatsApp website, tells us little information about how brands can go about getting onto the pilot programme, but gives us enough information to start speculating how it’ll be used:
- Green badges: all business accounts that have been verified by WhatsApp will appear with a green tick next to them – this will let users know they’re the real deal and can be trusted.
- Yellow information boxes: When you start talking to a business, you’ll be automatically told you’re talking to a business – they can’t pretend to be anything but! You’ll never be able to assume you’re talking to a friend or influencer.
So what does this mean for businesses and their customers?
- Everyone has it. This initial trial is for SMBs only, and it seems like the perfect place to start. If you’re a small company, you need an efficient way to talk to your customers, and what better way than on a platform that you both already know?
- It’s global, even in places where other social platforms aren’t so popular. With 200 million users, India is WhatsApp’s largest market, and it’s also possibly one of its most diverse, with only those digitally enabled SMBs able to cater to customers outside of large cities. With the introduction of WhatsApp payments alongside this pilot, there’s a huge opportunity for SMBs to expand e-commerce beyond websites and sell to people directly through messaging platforms (and I think that’s exciting!)
- It might be a more efficient way to carry out customer service on the platforms we’re already used to using. There’ll be no more trying to work out if someone you’re talking to on Twitter is a current customer (I don’t think any business has cracked the logging of @usernames in CRM databases). I’m assuming that when you start talking to a business on WhatsApp, your phone number will be immediately visible to them, making it easy to link you to your past purchases and complaints. If used in the right way this could make social customer service 100x more pleasant! No more having to move from a public conversation to private messaging to pass over personal info like email addresses and phone numbers (and no more potential for people to leave sensitive info in public places!)
- Marketing can get really personal if businesses are allowed to target specific phone numbers. Imagine you bought a pair of yellow shoes and the business you bought from wants you to know they’ve got the perfect navy skirt to go with it? Combine their CRM database with WhatsApp, and you’ve got the perfect way to target someone with information that might be valuable to them.
- It’s private, and sometimes we need that. Not everyone’s comfortable talking about their complaint or query openly on social media, but we’re all so used to using the platforms that sometimes we struggle to know what else to do. Imagine someone like P&G opening a service for young girls to ask questions about their first period. Sure, it would probably get some abuse from ‘funny’ people, but it would be an invaluable service to some slightly confused and worried youngsters.
Whilst cynics might see this as an infringement of their personal space, used strategically and creatively, this could be the best WhatsApp update since sliced bread…