Indian businesses are using the messaging tool so successfully that owner, Facebook, wants a piece of the cake.
Bangalore, September 18 2017: When Facebook acquired WhatsApp for $19 billion in 2014, it assured everyone that there would be no advertisements to degrade the experience. Since then, this free tool has grown to embrace 1.3 billion users, worldwide. India with over 200 million users is its biggest market. It is the app that most Indian mobile phone users promptly put on their phones -- if it is not already there. For some reason we tend to call it
An ad-free WhatsApp may turn out to be yet another case of promises, promises! Facebook already runs another messaging service -- Facebook Messenger -- where users encounter advertisements between conversations. WhatsApp may be next in the queue.
A WhatsApp blog suggests that so many corporates were using the tool that it had decided to get in on the act of connecting users to business. "We've heard stories of shopkeepers who use WhatsApp to stay in touch with hundreds of customers from a single smartphone...We'll be testing new features that ... make it easier for people to communicate with the businesses they want to reach on WhatsApp. "
WhatsApp for business seems to have been triggered by typical Indian jugaad: A Gurgaon-based healthcare enterprise called 1mg which sells medicines and health products online, uses Whatsapp to connect with customers. If it receives an order and needs to clarify something, it sends a Whatsapp message rather than an SMS.
So many other outfits are doing this that WhatsApp has launched a business pilot in India and BookMyShow has signed up as the first client. Henceforth users who book tickets on BookMyShow will receive a message on WhatsApp with the confirmation text or an M-ticket (mobile ticket) QR Code, along with an email.
Meanwhile new code has been added to Facebook's Ad Manager that now enables businesses to not only place ads in Facebook Messenger, but also to "Send WhatsApp Message". WhatsApp has clarified that such paid messages would only go to users who have agreed to receive them. Which means, we may soon have to scan the fine print of terms and conditions all over again -- because there is where such 'permissions' traditionally lurk.
Will WhatsAp users be subjected to 'cold messaging' -- receiving unsolicited commercial messages similar to the sponsored messages that pop up so irritatingly on so many web sites?
WhatsApp says no: business messages will be identified by a green tick mark. You can then block them. In other words, you must do the work in future to prevent commercials creeping into your WhatsApp traffic. This is the face of a business-savvy WhatsApp. We do have a choice accept -- or opt out.
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