Last week, we discussed Facebook's pursuit of monetizing WhatsApp. The introduction of verified business accounts on the chat service was a step in that direction. While Facebook is still not specifically talking about monetizing, the company has added another crucial step.
The soon-to-be-announced free WhatsApp business app is important on several levels. Firstly, it helps the service move further towards the workplace chat market. Microsoft Teams, Skype and Slack already hold a strong position in the market, but Facebook can muscle in.
Secondly, the WhatsApp Business app gives small organizations a tool to take customer questions and feedback, send updates, and interact with consumers in real time.
WhatsApp COO Matt Idema spoke to Fox Business about the company's plans:
“We want to put a basic foundation in place to allow people to message businesses and for them to get the responses that they want,” Idema says. “We do intend on charging businesses in the future.”
Currently, the business application is in a testing phase. Companies in Europe, Brazil, India and Indonesia are trialling the service. Idema is clear that the company is not forcing anything on its users. Instead, customers can “opt in” if they want to be contacted by a business.
This is certainly important. When the verified business accounts were announced last week, we were concerned that they gave companies free access to span customers. Idema did not say if some features for business will eventually be held behind a paywall, although it would make sense.
Facebook is able to monetize its own Messenger service through advertising. The company introduced ads this year, letting them appear in-between messages within a chain. This is similar to how the company employs monetizing in its new feed on the social network.
However, Facebook has always been ad-centric, while WhatsApp has not. The company has previously that WhatsApp will not adopt ads. It is a bold prediction as monetizing the service is necessary. Let's not forget, Facebook paid $19 billion to acquire the company.
Idema admits that ads may one day be introduced to WhatsApp, but it is not a certainty. There is a feeling that Facebook would prefer monetization to come from other means. However, WhatsApp is now sharing data directly with Facebook, which does suggest preparation for ad targeting.