Facebook Testing Business Messaging Tools via WhatsApp

Facebook, which bought WhatsApp for $22 billion in 2014, is now testing two free business tools on the messaging service. WhatsApp Business lets small businesses answer customer questions and send updates; larger businesses can avail themselves of another free tool that plugs in to the WhatsApp platform. Facebook is also debuting verified profiles for businesses on WhatsApp, to distinguish them from individuals. Businesses in Brazil, Europe, India and Indonesia, including KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, are testing the new tools.

The Wall Street Journal notes that Facebook plans to eventually charge for future features of these tools. “We want to put a basic foundation in place to allow people to message businesses and for them to get the responses that they want,” said WhatsApp chief operating officer Matt Idema, who did not describe when paid features would be introduced.

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“We do intend on charging businesses in the future,” he added. “We don’t have the details of monetization figured out.” To be contacted by a business, a user must opt in.

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has stated that, “messaging could yield dividends for the company within five years.” In addition to WhatsApp, Facebook also owns Messenger, where in July it started to show ads “sandwiched between users’ conversations when they open the app.”

Idema “didn’t rule out that WhatsApp could show ads to users at some point but said the focus was now on connecting businesses and users.”

WhatsApp’s largest market is India, with 200 million monthly active users out of 1.3 billion globally. Facebook, in contrast, generated only $2.13 per user in Asia, compared to $19.38 per user in the U.S. and Canada. WhatsApp now shares its user data with Facebook, to improve “ad targeting and friend suggestions.”

An example of how businesses use WhatsApp is Indian health-startup 1mg, which sells prescription medicine online. Co-founder Gaurav Agarwal says if an order “lacks necessary details,” his staff can send the customer a message via the new WhatsApp business tool; the customer can send an image of a missing document if necessary.

“It’s much easier than through SMS or our app,” he said, noting his company’s fulfillment rate “has nearly doubled since implementing the pilot.”