WhatsApp for Business: A Beginners Guide
Update from August 2018: WhatsApp Business API for Enterprises has been officially announced!
Contact us if you are an Enterprise, and want to start reaching your customers where they really.
With over 1.3 billion monthly and 1 billion daily users, WhatsApp has been operating at a massive scale for quite some time. Having done away with user subscription fees and being adamantly opposed to any advertising model to-date, we’ve all been waiting for the other shoe to drop in Whatsapp’s quest for monetization. Until now.
The newly introduced WhatsApp Business Accounts reveals what could finally be a real monetization plan: suite of tools and services, from account verification to “away messages,” for SMBs and Enterprises to officially communicate with their customers on WhatsApp.
The move, as explained in their announcement, makes total sense. Plenty of small businesses are already using WhatsApp to reach their customers, albeit in a cumbersome and unofficial way. Providing support for Business Accounts will bring them a much needed upgrade in their communications.
The real win for WhatsApp, however, is in enterprise customers. Until now, the scale of the bigger companies made it impossible to use the service to communicate effectively. With the new Business Accounts, WhatsApp has the potential to become a priority communication channel, which brings massive growth opportunity for both WhatsApp, and the businesses on it.
In their own words:
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.
Why is this important?
Let’s take a step back and look at this from a business perspective. Is it really worth all the hype? Do businesses need yet another channel to reach customers?
The answer is yes — with 75% of the world on messaging, we are now officially in the Messaging Age. Messaging is global, it’s the preferred communication method for the largest consumer group on the planet (Millennials) and now, especially on the heels of this new announcement, businesses cannot afford to ignore messaging — and the opportunity for 1:1 communication with their customers at scale. A good refresher by Chris Messina here.
But more importantly — WhatsApp is the #1 Messaging App for countless countries around the world. From LatAm to Europe, Whatsapp is king in certain markets, dominating over all others.
And, as Whatsapp itself admits — this is a (long awaited) response to an already existing behavior of businesses created unauthorized accounts — setting them up for an even greater chance for success since they’re piggybacking on existing behaviors vs. forcing a new one.
What does WhatsApp for Business mean to your company?
Whatsapp seems to actually “get” that it has the potential to be a vital communication medium for businesses. Something it arguably learned from watching Messenger’s bot launch.
Messenger took a different approach — attempting to mimic more of an “app store” model, complete with standalone bots trying to strike gold, marketing campaigns, and a variety of use cases well beyond B2C communication. This approach has been commendable from a creative standpoint — challenging even the most stalwart brands to think “outside of the bot” to come up with a concept that would stimulate brand engagement.
However, with this announcement and a “business search engine” vs. “discover tab” approach, this is a clear indicator of Whatsapp’s view that the future of messaging is streamlining B2C communication and service.
Technically, businesses will be able to manage their Whatsapp Business account the same way they manage their Facebook, Instagram or Twitter profiles.
Your customers will have to opt-in to your notifications when providing their phone number in your website. We expect WhatsApp to provide additional opt-in methods in the future.
For now, it looks like the free version will enable your small business to reach your customers one to one, with very little automation — only something they’re calling “away messages.” Enterprise companies operating at a larger scale will be allowed to automate useful notifications, such as flight times, delivery confirmations, and others.
How does it affect me as a consumer?
As messaging lovers ourselves, we couldn’t be more excited about this. WhatsApp Business Accounts will bring your favorite businesses to your favorite messaging platform. Forget about long hold times, heavy app downloads, or long FAQ pages; this means direct, effective communication with the business, when and how you want it.
The service has also been developed with the end-customer in mind, so companies won’t be able to abuse it in their benefit. In their own words:
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 will be following the same anti-spam rules as Facebook Messenger, trying to reduce spam to a minimum. Conversations with businesses are encrypted and they can be blocked by the user easily.
A green badge will indicate that the business phone has been verified by WhatsApp.
What does WhatsApp for Business mean to bot developers?
With only a vague mention of “away messages” and notifications, it’s not clear from the announcement whether after the closed beta period, WhatsApp will go deeper into automation and Bots. Our bet is they will follow a path set by Japanese messaging giant, LINE, starting with manual conversations and notifications, to be followed by proper support for a Bot platform.
Given WhatsApp’s track record, we expect them to be very selective with the use cases, and start off by providing these services to bigger companies with high volume traffic and specific use cases within their Business Account.
Given that this is Whatsapp’s most aggressive move towards monetization, the real question is how/what they willing to share with other providers?
We at Reply.ai see a huge opportunity on WhatsApp as a B2C communication tool. An effective, spam-free channel that could definitely change how we communicate with businesses.
Other platforms such as Messenger, LINE or WeChat have been working towards this goal for a year. It’s evident WhatsApp realizes this behavior has existed for a while now. Many businesses, including enterprise players, have been using WhatsApp for support, e-commerce, and others for a long time, in spite of being against the platform terms and conditions.
We’ve always been enamoured by the potential for small business owners to leapfrog websites, forms, emails and even apps, to go straight to bots as their preferred way of communicating and servicing their customers. This might be the first attempt at a B2C messaging solution that actually works, given they’ll be piggybacking on existing and proven user behavior.
Where to start?
WhatsApp official announcement was made September 5th, and is currently in a closed pilot program. So unless you’re in that beta, we’ll all have to wait and see. We will update this guide with more information as soon as it becomes available, or any news about WhatsApp Bot platform. You can bet we’ll be watching this very closely.
WhatsApp has the potential to be the king for business to consumer communication, providing a utility-focused, spam-free communication channel. Waiting as long as they have to launch this, Whatsapp has been able to benefit from learning from other platforms’ mistakes and successes (most notably its “cousin” Messenger). The potential downside for waiting is it now has to figure out where it fits within an already formed and in some cases mature ecosystem. Are they ready to play nice with others?
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