Since its launch back in 2009, WhatsApp has been at the centre of our social lives. Recent data suggests almost 75% of people in the UK use WhatsApp on a daily basis and it’s by far the most popular dedicated messaging app.
Coupled with the fact that the number of SMS text messages in the UK has dropped by around 75% since 2012, it’s understandable why some might conclude WhatsApp is the go to place for conversion on mobile devices.
Five years after WhatsApp first launched, in 2014, Facebook bought the platform for a cool $19bn. Many people, including myself, thought this would open the floodgates for promotional messages and it could go on to become one of Facebook’s most important ad inventory banks.
I have to admit though, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how Meta has largely kept it as it was originally intended – a messaging app. Is all that about to change though?
Just four days ago as I write this blog post, WhatsApp announced ‘WhatsApp Channels’, which was described as a ‘private way to follow what matters’.
In a nutshell, when launched (it’s currently only available in Colombia and Singapore where the experience will be refined before a more global launch), users will have a new tab called ‘Updates’ which will house all the updates from different channels they choose to follow, whether that be businesses, sports teams, local news, etc …
Interestingly, in the launch post, WhatsApp also said: “We also believe there is an opportunity to support admins with a way for them to build a business around their channel using our expanding payment services as well as the ability to promote certain channels in the directory to help increase awareness.” I suspect that means that you’ll be able to put some budget behind increasing your channel’s visibility, but we’ll know more as it rolls out properly.
The WhatsApp team are pitching Channels as a more private way of following brands and organisations. Channel admins aren’t able to see phone numbers or profile pictures of the followers of the channel they’re administering, and likewise, followers won’t be able to see the phone number or profile picture of the admin. Followers also won’t see details of other followers, which means that the channels a user chooses to follow is private. Other privacy features include the ability for channel admins to block screenshots and the forwarding of messages from their channel.
So, what does all this mean for marketers and is it a good opportunity for ag businesses to add another communication and sales channel to the mix? Possibly yes, if used well.
One of the major benefits is push notifications which allow you to get in front of your customers or prospective customers in an extremely effective way.
Previously, one of the best ways to achieve this was via a dedicated app but that requires a lot of resource and budget to build and support. Now though, when brands deliver updates via WhatsApp Channels, followers of that channel will receive a push notification. You can see this in action in the video below which was published with the launch blog post.
Once your channel has been created, it will be possible to send invite links to your customers and prospective customers which can be used anywhere online, including in email communications. This means that you can immediately reach out to your existing audience and tell them why they should follow your WhatsApp Channel.
Beyond your existing audience though, you will need to be creative and come up with new ways of incentivising people to follow your channel.
One example is by leveraging the ag show calendar. Many of you reading this will be active in the events scene and although running competitions on your stand is a great way to capture data, if you’re looking to acquire new WhatsApp Channel followers, you can replace the data capture element of the entry requirement with a simple QR code which will take them to your channel invite link and from there they can follow it.
As always, the success of this type of thing comes down to your ability to to deliver maximum value to your followers. To achieve this, we’d recommend that you are strategic about how you’re going to run your channel and engage with your customers and prospective customers with it. Simply treating it as another social media channel isn’t likely to cut it.
Put yourself in the shoes of your followers and think about how and when you’d want to hear from a brand.
For agribusinesses who get it right, it could end up being a very valuable asset which allows for timely and effective communication with the people they want to build the strongest relationships with.
We’ll be watching the roll out with interest and commenting on what we’re seeing.
If you need any help with this or any other part of your comm and marketing strategies, we’d love to hear from you.