WhatsApp’s recent update of its terms and conditions also served as an announcement of some changes that the instant messaging platform is making to open up revenue opportunities.
In its statement, WhatsApp highlighted its desire to help its users communicate with businesses. This is supposed to happen through targeted advertising which will be facilitated by “WhatsApp for Business” accounts.
According to WhatsApp,
We will explore ways for you and businesses to communicate with each other using WhatsApp, such as through order, transaction, and appointment information, delivery and shipping notifications, product and service updates, and marketing. For example, you may receive flight status information for upcoming travel, a receipt for something you purchased, or a notification when a delivery will be made. Messages you may receive containing marketing could include an offer for something that might interest you.
Other than the direct reference to targeted marketing, this also suggests the transformation WhatsApp into an e-commerce platform that integrates some e-commerce functionality into a messaging service.
Users of IM platforms like WeChat in markets that have adopted its full services suite are already familiar with this sort of functionality. An instant messaging platform can provide e-commerce features that include product updates, discounts and service payments.
It’s the same route that Facebook took with its Messenger service in 2015, integrating some of these features that tie in e-commerce to a messaging service and transform it into a platform.
WhatsApp’s adoption of the same model is hardly surprising. At some point, the world’s most popular messaging service was going to have to figure out new ways of creating revenue especially with the $19 billion price tag that was attached to it by Facebook.
Interestingly, though, this change will likely create a lot of opportunities for businesses that operate in markets where WhatsApp is a dominant tool for communication and media exchange.
Zimbabwe is one example of such a market with WhatsApp having been cited as contributing to 34% of national broadband traffic.
The application’s popularity is powered by WhatsApp bundles – Over the Top services that were introduced by the country’s mobile operators as a way of monetising the instant messaging service. These bundles have made WhatsApp affordable lowering the cost to as little as $3 for monthly access.
Once these services are introduced businesses will have an opportunity to reach out to Zimbabwean users not only through targeted marketing but also through instant messaging e-commerce.
In the face of high broadband costs that encourage Zimbabweans to resort to bundles services like WhatsApp, marketing and commerce over instant messaging services like WhatsApp is likely to emerge as a leading channel for reaching markets and engaging in online trade.
This also raises the constantly ignored case of net neutrality and forces businesses to view WhatsApp as a platform that could dictate the visibility of products and services.