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WhatsApp set to open the service and marketing floodgates

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19th Jan 2016
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WhatsApp is ditching its annual subscription fee and replacing it with a brand-friendly model, the social network’s creator, Jan Koum announced yesterday at the Digital-Life-Design Conference in Munich.

Presently, WhatsApp charges $1 a year to its 900m subscribers, however Koum told event delegates that, despite the regular income it offered, the model wasn’t really supportive of growth. A company blog has since confirmed plans to move to a new model:

"Many WhatsApp users don't have a debit or credit card number and are worried they'd lose access to their friends and family after their first year.

"So over the next several weeks, we'll remove fees from the different versions of our app and WhatsApp will no longer charge you for our service.

"We will test tools that allow you to use WhatsApp to communicate with businesses and organisations that you want to hear from."

Service channel

Although yet to be officially defined, many see the shift in thinking as more of an opportunity to open the floodgates for targeted marketing on the social network:

"Ultimately, I imagine WhatsApp will see advertising as a way to monetise its gargantuan customer base,” says Richard Jones, co-founder and CEO, EngageSciences.

“Instead of charging users a fee, the firm will look to charge firms like banks and airlines that want to contact WhatsApp users directly, as a solution to grow capital. The objective being to make “communication with businesses” just as easy for users as it has done with family and friends; so expect your next flight delay, bank identity confirmation or restaurant reservation to be dealt with on WhatsApp."

However, another caveat may well be a new and improved channel for brands to offer customer service support.

At present, Twitter represents the quickest and easiest line of fire for social media service support, with the microblogging platform viewed by many consumers as the easiest route to find, connect and communicate directly with businesses.

Yet Twitter is hampered by the 140 character limit it imposes on its users, with many service teams struggling to get to terms with communicating on the platform; so much so that Twitter itself has raised the likely possibility that it will scrap its character limit altogether.

And with a user base approximately double that of Twitter’s, WhatsApp could yet offer a helpful alternative. As BBC Newsbeat hypothesises, “you might soon be able to send your bank a message asking about a recent transaction or checking an airline for flight information”. So, while the public forum aspect of Twitter will be lost as part of the exchange, it does almost certainly mean users will have a less restricting alternative to get customer service queries dealt with effectively and efficiently via a social network.

WhatsApp’s blog added: “We all get these messages elsewhere today – through text messages and phone calls – so we want to test new tools to make this easier to do on WhatsApp, while still giving you an experience without third-party ads and spam.”

Koum also iterated the point that WhatsApp would not just become another breeding ground for unwanted, untargeted banner adverts as a result of the change. Despite this, marketers will wait with baited breath to discover how the social network plans to open up the opportunity to market their brand to a user base fast-approaching one-seventh of the globe’s population.

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