In an effort to further monetize operations, Whatsapp launched Whatsapp Business, an app which targets small businesses, on January 18. This is the first phase of the online messenger app’s larger plan to generate revenue by bringing large enterprises onto the platform.
The free Android-only app allows businesses to create a profile with their information, send automatic replies to common questions and collects message statistics like the number of messages that are being successfully delivered and read.
“What we saw was a need for businesses to have more efficient tools,” Whatsapp’s Chief Operating Officer Matt Idema told Reuters.
Businesses that sign up with Whatsapp Business are listed as a business account, and Whatsapp plans to include ‘confirmed accounts’ which ensure that the profile belongs to the business. It has started a closed pilot program to test tools for Whatsapp business accounts, including a green badge to help users identify verified business accounts.
Ultimately, Facebook-owned Whatsapp wants large enterprises like banks, airlines and e-commerce platforms to use the app “to provide customers with useful notifications like flight times, delivery confirmations, and other updates,” according to a September 2017 Whatsapp blog post announcing plans for the Whatsapp Business app.
The company, which has more than 1.3 billion users, dropped its $1 annual subscription fee in 2016 and has historically taken a stance against advertising on the platform. Whatsapp has not yet clarified how it will gain revenue through Whatsapp Business, but a change in the Whatsapp Terms and Conditions in August 2016 (the first update in four years) indicated that the messaging app was preparing users for marketing messages from businesses.
“Messages you may receive containing marketing could include an offer for something that might interest you. We do not want you to have a spammy experience; as with all of your messages, you can manage these communications, and we will honor the choices you make.” The terms and conditions specified that third-party banner ads would not be allowed on Whatsapp.
Whatsapp maintains that the launch of Whatsapp Business will cause minimal change for regular people using the app—users can still block business accounts.
“People will continue to have full control over the messages they receive, with the ability to block any number, including businesses, as well as report spam,” the blog post announcing the app’s launch stated.
Whatsapp Business is currently available in Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, the U.K and U.S., but plans to expand globally in the next few weeks. As of writing, the app has between 100,000 and 500,000 downloads and a 3.9 rating on the Google Play Store.