There's been a lot of commotion over Facebook’s purchase of WhatsApp, a messaging service that substitutes SMS messaging for free (or if you’re a long-time user, a small fee). As The Economist puts it, it’s the largest purchase of a venture capital-backed company thus far — and another big move in the tech industry’s own “Game of Thrones.”
First, with Instagram, and now with WhatsApp, Facebook has been making some big moves to acquire companies that could substitute some of the very services that it provides to a larger audience. In fact, this acquisition in particular piggy-backs on talks last year about teenagers leaving Facebook for messenger apps – it’s not a coincidence that Facebook went after one of its biggest competitors for this younger generation.
Why the WhatsApp audience matters
WhatsApp’s audience uses the app to connect more seamlessly with their friends on a day-to-day basis. It allows them to "have privacy" (as much privacy as you can have with an app), and to share their content with the people that they want to share it with (instead of the whole world). In a way, it's their own personal social network of friends who they can message to plan events, share their lives, and generally just connect with more regularly.
Although you can sign up with just a phone number, often times people keep their location services on. And more importantly, because of the increased feeling of privacy, they share content that they may not be sharing on other social services like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Additionally, they’re connecting to their core audience on a regular basis about things that truly matter to them—something else Facebook may or may not have had on this audience before.
What this means for marketers
Following the acquisition, WhatsApp will continue to function as a standalone app, just like Instagram. But unlike Instagram, since the announcement, the WhatsApp team has reiterated their promise that there will be no ads on the platform. So, if there won’t be any ads, then why does this acquisition really matter to marketers?
Well, let's get to the meat of it:
In short, the data is the big ticket here. The user base is global, which allows brands to tap into a more international audience than what they’ve had with Facebook and other networks, which are more U.S.-based in scale. And since we’ve already seen brands tapping into messaging services like Snapchat, this acquisition makes it more likely that WhatsApp could be next.
Aside from the data that a brand could receive about their audiences across places like India, Brazil, Europe, etc., imagine sending a group message to people to let them to know about an event happening within the hour in their city. Imagine tapping into your influencer set and allowing them a sneak peek of a brand product release, heightening the exclusivity through the messenger app. The creative ideas are just beginning — and this acquisition may stir up some rumblings with the other big tech giants shortly.