Since snapping up Whatsapp in 2014 for USD 19 billion, Facebook has struggled to find an apt monetization strategy for the texting app. After releasing a few minor steps, including the recent “Whatsapp Business” for medium-sized companies, the Menlo Park giant is ready to launch a full-scale roll out. According to OMR sources, “Whatsapp for Enterprises” is set to go live this week. OMR takes an exclusive look at the three functions featured in the new app starlet—and which companies look poised to suffer as a result.
Update, July 18, 10:00 AM: The July 17 launch date failed to materialize: at the time of publication, Facebook had neither launched, nor announced “Whatsapp for Enterprises.” Our source informed us that the decision to push back the launch was a spontaneous strategic decision made by Facebook. The contents of the new product as laid out in the following article remain accurate-the exact launch date, however, remains unclear.
There were scores of industry observers puzzled by the mega deal: Facebook shelling out USD 19 billion for Whatsapp just didn’t make sense. Sure the app itself and its then 600 million plus monthly active users (MAU) was a massive success story (today that figure is north of 1.5 billion), but there were legitimate doubts on whether the app could be integrated into the Facebook platform—and what, if any, products could be used to monetize the heretofore ad-free app.
Fair or not, one comparison regularly made when analyzing the Whatsapp deal, due in large part to the massive acquisition cost,: is with Instagram. Back in 2012, Facebook acquired the photo app for “only” USD 1 billion. At first glance, the Instagram deal is far better. The regular roll out of new functions, like the story format, have kept it fresh and boosted its popularity among celebs and influencers—and boasts over a billion MAU at present. More importantly from a business perspective, monetizing Instagram is as easy as pie. Since 2015, Instagram has offered a variety of ad formats, is now completely integrated in Facebook’s ad platform and according to Morgan Stanley analyst Brian Nowak produced USD 3.8 billion in revenue in Q2 of 2018 alone—that’s over a third of the growth for Facebook’s ad revenue.
The “Whatsapp for Enterprises” trifecta
Facebook now seems ready to finally get serious with Whatsapp. According to an anonymous OMR source, a solution for large businesses and companies is ready to launch in “Whatsapp for Enterprises.” The release date is set for July 17, 2018 (Fun fact: That date is featured in Apple’s calendar emoji–maybe it’s just a cowinkie-dink). “Whatsapp for Enterprises” is said to be limited to the following three functions: Notifications, live chat and sponsored messages.
- Notifications: Passengers on KLM Royal Dutch airlines started getting a look last September at how notifications could work on Whatsapp. In this first wide-scale test, KLM sent flyers their boarding passes, booking confirmations, flight status updates and all sorts of infos that could be viewed via a so-called “this-then-that function.” Facebook successfully showed it was able to claim a domain exclusively reserved for email and text messages—the latter of which Facebook could conceivable releagte to history in the medium term. In Germany, the report says, there are a few partners with access to the service, but it is unclear if they will be ready when “Whatsapp for Enterprises” launches.
- Live Chat: This feature will only be available to verified profiles, which figures to include every partner that qualifies for Notifications. All indications are that this feature will consist of a similar array of functions that smaller businesses have enjoyed in “Whatsapp Business” for the past few months: the ability to communicate with customers individually, answer questions and other standard customer support tasks. We’ll have to wait for the launch to see the scope of the chatbot functions and how many solutions third-parties are able to offer.
- Sponsored Messages: For many marketers, the last point figures to be the most appealing. Sponsored Messages will finally bestow Whatsapp with its first scalable ad product. At its core, the paid message will function the same in Facebook Messenger, where there are really only two formats at the moment. First, there are “Messenger Ads,” which appear at the top of Messenger and “Sponsored Messages,” which are sent as direct messages to recipients’ inboxes. Whatsapp is said to be loathe to damage its overall personal feel, which means that there figures to be greater limitations to this format than in Facebook Messenger. Our source says that the ad product will not be immediately available when “Whatsapp for Enterprises” launches. Time will tell if the much-discussed ad format will also be released here on Whatsapp.
Is “Whatsapp for Enterprises” way too long in the making?
The fact that Facebook is seeking to monetize Whatsapp, first with “Whatsapp Business” and now “Whatsapp for Enterprises,” figures to surprise hardly any industry observers. In fact, many would call it long overdue. Although the Whatsapp founding duo Brian Acton and Jan Koum categorically ruled out running ads after the acquisition in 2014, the signs in favor of an ad-product in recent weeks and months have multiplied.
Back in mid-2015 Facebook began discussing future monetization plans for Whatsapp via B2C-Services—in early 2016, those reports were corroborated by Whatsapp in a blog post. When Whatsapp relocated to Facebook’s campus in early 2017, it became clear for many that the independently operating Whatsapp was to be integrated into the proverbial mothership faster than projected. A few months later Brian Acton then announced he was leaving the company. And after launching “Whatsapp Business” and a day before Facebook announced at the F8 developer conference plans to open Whatsapp for businesses, Jan Koum departed.
The impacts the changes will have on third-party products?
What stands out among the new “Whatsapp for Enterprises” functions is that which is missing: a newsletter function, like the one currently offered by Whatsbroadcast. (We use that service at OMR to dispatch articles via Whatsapp). We can only speculate on what the omission figures to mean for such tools moving forward: if Facebook will continue to tolerate the service or if it will shut it down to buttress its own business and enterprise solution.