Marketers are always trying to understand knowing where their customers play and many think Facebook’s three core apps are a safe bet. CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a July Q2 quarterly call with investors that 2.5 billion people use at least one of his platform’s apps each month: WhatsApp, Instagram or Messenger.

Facebook is trying to cash in on all of that usage, naturally, and its latest move comes with WhatsApp. Facebook announced the WhatsApp Business API to help businesses manage communications with existing and potential customers at scale through WhatsApp and Facebook advertisements. “With the WhatsApp Business API,” Facebook officials wrote in an Aug. 1 blog post, “you can send messages to people who initiate a chat with your business (through a Facebook Ad) or who request that you send them information via WhatsApp.” 

Marketing Opportunity

Marketers can cash in on the WhatsApp usage, too. About 1.5 billion people actively use the messaging platform each month. "I believe that WhatsApp offers a great opportunity to marketers,” said Dan Goldstein, president and owner of Page 1 Solutions. "Right now, that audience is largely outside of the US, but there is an opportunity to target the Hispanic community in the US since WhatsApp is popular in that community.”

Marketers should note that WhatsApp penetration in the United States is not as great as it is in other countries. Even though this may be a limited opportunity inside the U.S. for now, Goldstein called WhatsApp a “huge platform” that has the “potential to be a great advertising opportunity for businesses and marketers that want a means to engage with their target market.” He expects WhatsApp to grow in popularity in the U.S., and he sees the future as even bigger beyond WhatsApp since there id the potential that other similar platforms may follow WhatsApp's lead.”

Essentially, this is about starting a conversation with customers and prospects on WhatsApp through an advertisement on Facebook. Users can leverage the WhatsApp Business API to send customized notifications with what Facebook calls “non-promotional content,” such as shipping confirmations, appointment reminders or event tickets. Facebook will charge companies a fixed rate for confirmed delivery. When someone messages a business, that business can use the WhatsApp Business API to respond to questions or comments for free within 24 hours, according to Facebook. Businesses will be charged for any messages/responses sent more than 24 hours after the last customer response.

Allen Adamson, co-founder of Metaforce, said the move by Facebook is clever because it's meeting the consumer where they are, which for most of the world, especially outside the US, where they are is on WhatsApp, he added. “But,” Adamson said, “this will only endear customers to brands if it actually improves the customer experience, either through speed or ease of use. If it's the same delays and robots via a new platform, it actually has the potential to harm brands because it was a bad touchpoint, where there was none before.”

Related Article: WhatsApp Readies for Business

Message Forwarding Limits on WhatsApp Matters, Too

Marketers should also take notice of another recent change to WhatsApp involving forwarding messages. WhatsApp announced last month a test to limit forwarding that will apply to everyone using WhatsApp. In India, WhatsApp also announced a test to implement a limit of five chats at one time and removed the quick forward button next to media messages. WhatsApp wants to prevent people from spreading false information and spam. “We believe that these changes, which we'll continue to evaluate, will help keep WhatsApp the way it was designed to be: a private messaging app,” WhatsApp officials said in their blog post.

“The changes in message forwarding abilities for WhatsApp users will hopefully be a positive step to eliminating and/or significantly reducing spam and fake news on the platform, which has resulted in the spread of misinformation recently, particularly in India,” said Negeen Ghaisar, head of digital strategy at Bigbuzz Marketing Group. It’s important for marketers to be aware of this change in message forwarding. The limitations on forwarding should help shape the experience created in content on WhatsApp to be focused more on the individual consumers and not on virality, Ghaisar said.

Learning Opportunities

She added the limitation of message forwarding and the launch of Facebook chat ads and business APIs represent the two biggest changes on the WhatsApp messaging platform for marketers. “The changes,” she said, “are all positive for brands looking to expand their storytelling capabilities and reaching consumers where and how it is most convenient and desirable for them. WhatsApp launching chat ads and allowing for bots on the platform ultimately opens the door for brands to foster deeper relationships.”

She said the one-to-one messaging that is very popular in APAC and on other global social media platforms, including Facebook's own Messenger, is expanding in reach and capability as market demand for personalized, private communication grows worldwide. 

Know Your Prospects First

Ioana Budai, content marketer at around25, suggests that before marketers dive into WhatsApp headfirst they should determine whether their users actually favor WhatsApp as a messaging platform. It's important to know if and/or how they’ll react to ads or a WhatsApp window popping up out of nowhere. “I’d say be transparent about the whole thing,” Budai said. “Create a poll on your social media or email newsletter specifically for this purpose. This way, most of your audience will also be notified beforehand.”

Budai also suggested marketers should:

  • Implement the click-to-message feature on your website to create more awareness about the fact that your brand is reachable via WhatsApp. 
  • When writing Facebook Ads copy, consider its new intent. Since you lead people to a WhatsApp chat, which implies a highly conversational and slightly informal tone, your Facebook ad copy should match this tone. 
  • Try to avoid mass messaging via third party tools. This could bring you an unnecessary ban from WhatsApp. “They don’t want their users to leave the platform because of this,” Budai said.

“If you consider it makes sense for your product and brand, now’s the time to make a move,” she added about WhatsApp marketing. “Not a lot of companies know about this recent marketing opportunity, so you could make your move as an early adopter. But only if it makes sense for you and you know it brings you ROI."

Related Article: Why WhatsApp Should Be Part of Your Marketing Strategy

Social Media Getting ‘Convenient and Personal’

In conclusion, what this means for marketers is that social media is getting convenient and personal, according to Kim Smith, content marketing manager with GoodFirms. “This means,” she said, “marketers have to weave their strategies and content which is more personal and appealing. With the latest tools and features, marketers have to create an engaging and interactive strategy.”