Can WhatsApp Take The Spotlight As The New Marketing Channel?

Don’t you find it insanely frustrating when you are trying to sign into Skype and you just can’tremember which username or password you used? It happens to the best of us. This is why the founders of WhatsApp, Jan Koum and Brian Acton decided to create their messenger platform differently.

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When Apple introduced push notifications in May 2009, Koum created a “prebuilt social network using phone number as a login instead of a password”. The original motto was “No ads! No games! No gimmicks!”, rather an interactive messaging system that supports multi-media exchange. Facebook later purchased WhatsApp in May 2014 for approximately $19 billion.

WhatsApp’s massive growth made it an appealing option to marketers who are looking for a more personal way to engage with their customers. What started as a personal messaging platform evolved into a multimedia sharing platform with the option to share content and media to a closed group of people that have a common interest.

With the opportunity comes also a challenge. WhatsApp doesn’t have an official API. This means that it is not possible to automate any form of marketing. Therefore, companies who’d like to leverage this platform need to devote more resources in addition to coming up with highly creative ideas in order to engage with its users.

Used correctly, WhatsApp can be a great tool to increase brand awareness, customer loyalty and thought leadership.

How Marketers Can Leverage WhatsApp

In 2013, WhatsApp introduced what’s called “broadcasting”, allowing users to send messages to a group of people at once, without allowing other recipients to know about each other. Marketers can reach 100% of their recipients directly, which is a huge benefit. In comparison, with a Facebook page marketers can only reach about 6 % of their followers unless they pay to promote their content.

WhatsApp is not as active in America and the UK, however many e-commerce companies around the world have been putting it to good use. In Africa, a website known as Jumia, has been connecting with its users to send them updated offers and promotions. WhatsApp is popular in India for small businesses wanting to communicate directly with their customers without any network barriers.

Another interesting usage of WhatsApp is for real time alerts and it was successfully used during governmental elections in the UK, Israel and in India.

The Flip Side of the Coin

WhatsApp was not designed for business use; however it could still be used to compliment your current social media platform. Direct advertising and soliciting a business via WhatsApp is actually a violation of its terms and service. However, sharing images, posts and engaging with your existing contacts is acceptable.

In some countries, it is not allowed to contact individuals by phone unless they have specifically asked to be contacted. But even without such regulations users may consider these campaigns as spam or inappropriate.

Using WhatsApp for business should not be taken lightly. There are ways to do it if you are going to and ways to definitely not do it. It is very important to keep in mind that the last thing a customer wants is another disruption, especially when it comes to their private messaging app.

Conclusion

For marketers, having another marketing channel is always both an opportunity and a challenge: on the one hand, a new channel has the potential to reach a new audience, but on the other you need to study this channel and find the best ways to utilise it. It is also important to carefully choose the channels that are most relevant for your audience and to focus on these, rather than spending resources on channels where your audience is not very much present.

While WhatsApp was not designed for business usage, it holds many opportunities for engaging customer in a personalised manner, and marketers are beginning to tap into the potential it holds. Yet, marketers need to keep in mind that using WhatsApp is considered very similar to using SMS, and therefore they need to be careful not to spam users or be intrusive.

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