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What SMBs Need To Know About WhatsApp For Business

Storyhunter's David Berkowitz sees little downside for SMBs adding their listings to WhatsApp. As for the upside, there are a few more things to consider first for local brands.

WhatsApp, the nine-year-old messaging app, released a new version last week aimed at small businesses in Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, the U.K. and the U.S as the Facebook-owned property seeks to capitalize on its stand-alone appeal to Millennials for enterprises.

WhatsApp was acquired by Facebook for nearly $20 million in Feb. 2014 and currently boasts a global user base of 1.3 billion. In a blog post promoting the WhatsApp For Business ahead of a wider global rollout in the coming weeks, the company notes that people can continue using WhatsApp as usual —” there’s no need to download anything new.”

While the appeal to U.S. businesses and consumers may be small at the moment relative to WhatsApp’s presence in other countries — the company cites a Morning Consult study saying “over 80 percent of small businesses in India and Brazil say WhatsApp helps them both communicate with customers and grow their business today” — the rapidly changing landscape in social media marketing could mean that WhatsApp could be more of a player in the coming months and years.

The benefits WhatsApp says SMBs can derive from its new platform suggests a good deal of overlap with what Google, Yelp, Facebook and Instagram already provide. Still, given that its free, the idea of “being wherever the consumer might be” suggests that there few drawbacks to giving it a shot.

As we’ve reported, over 1.82 billion people will use messaging apps this year, according to a report from eMarketer — a 15.5 percent year-over-year increase that underscores the crucial role messaging platforms and chatbots can play in brand/consumer interactions.

Certainly, being accurately listed in an important and growing social messaging app does have some clear positive aspects aside from WhatsApp’s For Business’s highlighted tools:

  • Business Profiles: Help customers with useful information such as a business description, email or store addresses, and website.
  • Messaging Tools: Save time with smart messaging tools — quick replies that provide fast answers to frequently asked questions, greeting messages that introduce customers to your business, and away messages that let them know you’re busy.
  • Messaging Statistics: Review simple metrics like the number of messages read to see what’s working.
  • WhatsApp Web: Send and receive messages with WhatsApp Business on your desktop.
  • Account Type: People will know that they’re talking to a business because you will be listed as a Business Account. Over time, some businesses will have Confirmed Accounts once it’s been confirmed that the account phone number matches the business phone number.

As for what SMBs should be thinking about when considering signing up with yet another social media platform, we turned to David Berkowitz, head of marketing for Storyhunter, a Brooklyn, NY-based video network that offers opportunities for collaboration among Filmmakers, journalists, production companies, agencies, media companies, and brands.

GeoMarketing: How should SMBs and other marketers evaluate the need for this app?

David Berkowitz: This is a crazy idea, but market research could help. Ask some customers or prospects when you deal with them, “Do you ever use WhatsApp? Would that be a way you’d want to interact with us? What kind of information would you want?” Bring it up in conversation here and there; it doesn’t need to be a formal study. Granted, there’s always the challenge of ‘known unknowns.’ You could always wind up talking with the wrong people — those who are either surprisingly excited about it but don’t wind up using it, or those who never heard of WhatsApp but who aren’t the target audience.

Is there any downside? As more potential consumers use messaging apps, does it simply make sense to be available everywhere?

WhatsApp has 1.3 billion users. It’s safe to say that if you’re an SMB owner or a marketer considering this, and you’re worried about needing to manage a ton of new communications channels, very few will gross the billion-user mark. Yes, there’s little downside.

As a bonus, that means even in a small business, there is probably someone affiliated with it who knows the basic mechanics of WhatsApp and can set up the business listing. Whether it’s the proverbial teenage kid stocking shelves or the Baby Boomer who uses it to talk to his or her kids based in some other country, it should be a lot easier to get this kind of channel going.

Do you see any value to an SMB simply being listed on the WhatsApp platform in terms of being able to extend their ability to be “discovered” by users?

The biggest potential drawback here is that if you build it, they won’t come. Maybe WhatsApp users won’t flock to this feature. Or maybe they will in Indonesia, but not Italy (two of the initial markets).

Or maybe people will use it to find manicurists and not martial arts instructors, or Boomers start going crazy for this but Generation Z’ers don’t care, and your business falls on the wrong side of it.

Facebook, WhatsApp’s owner, releases new features all the time; sometimes they become hits (like live video streaming), and sometimes they misfire (we’ll see if Stories ever catches on). Just being listed in WhatsApp can’t hurt, but it will be up to WhatsApp’s users as to whether they want to discover anything at all.

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of GeoMarketing.com. A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.