Earlier this month, Facebook announced that its WhatsApp messaging service was trialing a new system whereby companies could communicate directly with private users. Since WhatsApp’s client base now covers a billion people, this represents a serious business opportunity. And while Facebook was keen to downplay any possibility of spam mail being carried, there’s clearly scope for a business model where companies are charged to message private users. That could be particularly useful for live updates, such as appointment cancelations or travel notifications.
Until Facebook publicly launches this scheme, WhatsApp will remain a personal messaging platform whose popularity is surpassed only by its parent company’s Messenger service. WhatsApp’s terms and conditions clearly state that direct advertising or soliciting business represent violations of its terms of service.
However, there are already plenty of WhatsApp marketing strategy options available to corporate audiences…
The platform’s founders have always permitted any WhatsApp marketing strategy where customers have opted in. Perhaps surprisingly, many consumers prefer WhatsApp chats to call centers or raising online helpdesk tickets. The ability to converse in real time is perfect for today’s busy lifestyles, and there’s a reassurance about knowing when a message was read. Quicker than sending an email, and less overt than making calls or checking voicemails, WhatsApp is an instant messaging service for the smartphone generation. After all, few people use its Mac OS X or Windows versions.
Public familiarity with the platform means a WhatsApp marketing strategy is an obvious way to communicate with the public. However, there are some limitations. Group chats can’t feature more than 50 members, so mass mailings are out of the question. Indeed, there’s evidence that people would quickly become hostile to bulk mail distribution. WhatsApp’s founders have been scathing about advertising, so core users would resist radical changes to the platform’s no-sell ethos. The lighthearted emoji-powered nature of WhatsApp can also make it inappropriate for formal situations, such as conversations with your doctor, for example.
Still, there is plenty of scope for companies to develop a WhatsApp marketing strategy. The encrypted nature of communications means any sensitive or personal data can be distributed securely. It can support live or pre-captured photo distribution alongside video messaging and voice calls, while a variety of file types can be sent as attachments. Messages are delivered within a couple of seconds on a normal network, which is usually faster than email or SMS. That telltale double blue tick means the recipient’s device has displayed a message, which can be helpful if disputes about communications arise at a later date.
It’s also important to consider the benefits of using WhatsApp internally. Staff will probably already be familiar with it, so creating departmental groups is an easy way of passing on information or sharing advice without any training. It’s particularly handy for teams working remotely; people can quickly type an IM in a lift or standing by the water cooler, eliminating the risk of forgetting to write an email or make a phone call later. And although sending colleagues an emoji might seem a touch unprofessional, it does make corporate communications that little bit more enjoyable – which is always a good thing for morale…
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