Is WhatsApp appropriate for business use?

‘To message, or not to message…’  (image by Anton)

‘To message, or not to message…’ (image by Anton)

This piece is an excerpt from Forward Look, a newsletter by our sister company MRM. Sign-up to receive Forward Look as well as more finance, PR and media insights, by scrolling to the bottom of this page here.

By Andrea Bruce, Account Director, Foco

The multi-billion dollar behemoth that is Facebook has found yet another way to invade every area of our lives, by expanding its operational control over the hitherto private messaging platform they purchased in 2014, WhatsApp. What used to be sacrosanct and advertiser-free (unless you count your mate’s circulation of their homemade birthday party flyer) has officially become a business tool, much to the horror of some users, with the launch of the imaginatively-named WhatsApp Business on iOs about two months ago.   

Bank BRI, Singapore Airlines and WorldRemit are just some of the recognisable brands extolling the virtues of WhatsApp Business, which has been on Android since last year. WorldRemit’s chief product officer, Alice Newton-Rex testifies: "WorldRemit is thrilled to be the first UK fintech to integrate with WhatsApp's Business API. Millions of WorldRemit customers use WhatsApp each day to chat with loved ones around the world and discuss sending and receiving money."

Maybe it’s just me, but aren’t comments about what we type to each other in secret moments akin to the violation you feel when an irate nightclub owner turns the lights on prematurely, exposing snogging strangers and faces full of stale make-up? And more to the point, won’t financial advisers and professionals in similar ‘serious’ sectors come across a bit weird and suspect if they start popping-up on WhatsApp, or have digital banks like Starling paved the way for acceptance?

Users have of course taken to Twitter, one of the few popular platforms Facebook doesn’t own (yet) to share their feedback on all these developments. @vinyojay has started a thread entitled, “Reason 10,000 why I HATE doing business via WhatsApp”, which goes on to complain, “Why Bunny's Cakes have to be watching my WhatsApp statuses? I added your number to order a cake not for friendship. So awk”. Meanwhile, there are some slight glimmers of hope in the Twittersphere for the future of WhatsApp Business too. @notbreakingeven posted: “I absolutely love and hate the fact that ice pop has a whatsapp for business It makes ordering so simple I don't have to talk to anyone, I can just drop a message and bus ice cream ajati hai”.

If you’re one of the many people (like me) who once wondered why on Earth your mobile phone needed a camera, perhaps it will take you a few years to adapt to brands trying to get your attention with little green speech bubbles that once bought so much joy. By that time, we would have all moved on to a virgin ‘dark social’ plane, free from prying eyes but probably still vulnerable to those homemade flyers and eerie chain messages that we’re so voraciously defending our right to enjoy, undetected.