Increasing the odds that Facebook will one day turn WhatsApp’s popularity into profits, the messaging app is offering special accounts for all businesses.
Unveiled on Thursday, WhatsApp Business is a new Android app designed for small businesses.
“Our new app will make it easier for companies to connect with customers, and more convenient for our 1.3 billion users to chat with businesses that matter to them,” the Facebook unit stated
With the app, customers learn about business products and services, and other means of contacting them.
The app also offers “quick replies,” which offers customers fast answers to frequently asked questions, greeting messages and away messages. Businesses can use the app to access basic metrics, like the number of messages customers have read.
At launch, the app is free for businesses to download, but Facebook plans to monetize the offering at some point in the future.
Despite the popularity of messaging services like Messenger and WhatsApp, Facebook has struggled to monetize these platforms. “Although Messenger is widely used … consumers have been slow to warm up to the idea of interacting with chatbots and paid advertising in messaging applications,” eMarketer principal analyst Debra Aho Williamson said last year.
“Facebook has faced scrutiny in Europe over its plan to merge data from WhatsApp with data from Facebook,” she noted. “These scenarios tell me that generating significant ad revenue from Messenger and WhatsApp is still a ways off."
WhatsApp has spent the last year building and testing new tools via its free WhatsApp Business app for small companies, along with what it has called an “enterprise solution” for larger companies operating at a broader scale.
While little is known about the enterprise product, it will not be free. It offers a fresh -- and potentially vast -- revenue opportunity for WhatsApp and Facebook.
Thinking big, ideal clients for the forthcoming enterprise product include airlines, ecommerce sites and banks, according to WhatsApp.
Worldwide, more than 1 billion consumers use WhatsApp on a daily basis, according to internal estimates. Paving the way for its enterprise expansion, WhatsApp recently began verifying business accounts.