We didn’t see it far coming. Facebook owned WhatsApp has 1.3 billion users worldwide – that’s six hundred million more than Instagram. Analyst estimates for Instagram’s revenue in 2017 average nearly $4 billion; Clearly whatever Mark Zuckerberg has been able to get his hands on, he has been able to monetize it.
Ad placements have massively developed in the last year, Facebook Messenger recently monetized with the new call-to-action “Click to Message”. It’s clear that it’s only a matter of time before WhatsApp follows suit. Although some still believe the move to include advertising on WhatsApp will be the last resort.
WhatsApp’s stance has always been anti-advertising. In a 2012 blog post by WhatsApp’s CEO, Jean Koum wrote: “No one wakes up excited to see more advertising, no one goes to sleep thinking about the ads they’ll see tomorrow, we know people go to sleep excited about who they chatted with that day (and disappointed about who they didn’t).”
Koum has even gone as far to say that advertising is insulting and disruptive, which further adds to the “heated” conversation as to whether ads, overall, have a negative impact on user experience. It seems there’s a slight disconnect between WhatsApp’s vision and Facebook’s revenue ambition. With digital ad spend (37.6%) expected to overtake TV (35.9%) in 2018, can WhatsApp afford to miss out?
WhatsApp has recently announced a new offering for companies. Global enterprises, will be able “to provide customers with useful notifications like flight times, delivery confirmations, and other updates”. SME’s will have access to a free app (although the specific functionality has not yet been announced).
TechCrunch has recently discovered code in Facebook’s Ad Manager that lets advertisers create ads with the call-to-action “Send WhatsApp Message”. Like Facebook Messenger, users have to agree to be messaged on WhatsApp by initiating the conversation.
Facebook Messenger released the “Click to Message” ads back in 2015. Which supports the growing trend that users would rather get their questions answered via text exchange rather than picking up the phone.
Across the board, we are seeing more user engagement over instant messaging, especially with the rise in popularity of messenger bots and Facebook injecting display ads into Messenger. It’s not surprising to find that WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger process 60 billion messages a day. That’s three times more than the worldwide volume of SMS messages!
As Mark Zuckerberg once said: “Messaging is one of the few things that people do more than social networking”.
What does this mean for the marketer?
The new ad feature will allow brands to spark conversations with their customers and then have the ability to contact them in the future such as a sponsored message. WhatsApp did write that it wants to facilitate “someone placing an order with a local bakery or looking at new styles from a clothing store” and “shopkeepers who use WhatsApp to stay in touch with hundreds of customers from a single smartphone”, plus offer “an easier way to respond to messages.” For example, an e-commerce business could buy Facebook ads that entice users to message the business through WhatsApp, then the store could then later message that user with a promotion.
With over 1 billion daily active users, WhatsApp has achieved significant growth with many brands already utilizing the platform to reach out to its customers. Mark Zuckerberg himself said “I want to see us move faster” on Messenger on WhatsApp. He also hinted using other messaging platforms such as China’s WeChat (where they charge companies a set-up fee and another fee for each interaction) as a floor. The question is, to what extent is Facebook willing to allow brands to advertise on WhatsApp without interfering with the simple user experience?
I’d love to hear your views on whether it would be a good move by Facebook or ideas on how you could utilize WhatsApp as a channel to reach out and keep in contact with your customers!