You’ll forgive me if I breeze past the WhatsApp-is-now-free news to mention what really seems to be significant here: If WhatsApp, for which Facebook paid $19 billion, isn’t making money from users, it’ll need a different way. And that way is to let businesses get a presence on the messaging app, so that users can communicate directly with businesses on it.
WhatsApp for business has been a long time coming—and much-requested by businesses, apparently. Forbes reports: “Businesses have been flooding WhatsApp with emailed enquiries over how they could access the network for some time but the company has ignored all of them, according to a person close to the firm.” The interest from businesses is no doubt because of the massive user base that WhatsApp brings: the app’s executives said in a blog post that WhatsApp has reached nearly 1 billion users.
Obvious WhatsApp-for-business use cases could include booking appointments or getting questions answered—the sort of thing that still requires a phone call in many cases today. Other startups, such as Pingup and TalkTo (acquired by Path), have specialized in offering those sorts of interactions with businesses over messaging. But the lack of a big base of users for the apps (and of businesses familiar with the services) naturally were stumbling blocks to major adoption. WhatsApp, of course, has no such issues with a lack of users and won’t have as much heavy lifting to do in raising awareness among businesses.
In the blog post, WhatsApp said it will soon begin trying out ways to get businesses in the mix: “Starting this year, we will test tools that allow you to use WhatsApp to communicate with businesses and organizations that you want to hear from.”
The post continues:
That could mean communicating with your bank about whether a recent transaction was fraudulent, or with an airline about a delayed flight. We all get these messages elsewhere today – through text messages and phone calls – so we want to test new tools to make this easier to do on WhatsApp, while still giving you an experience without third-party ads and spam.