A new era for WhatsApp

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Last week the internet exploded in response to the news that WhatsApp will be opening up its platform to brands. The Facebook-owned messaging app announced that it was making changes to its policy “as part of [their] plans to test ways for people to communicate with businesses”.

Whatsapp will now allow companies to talk directly to customers about topics such as orders, marketing offers, appointments, delivery updates and travel information. They have made clear that all messages within the service would remain encrypted, meaning communications remain private.

The media’s response to this announcement has been full of both scepticism and concern about what this change means for consumer data and privacy. Yes – WhatsApp will now be handing more data about users to its parent company Facebook and Facebook in-turn will use the data, such as phone numbers, to inform what offers and ads it shows its users. Whatsapp are however adamant that it won’t be a ‘spammy’ experience but will instead be individually tailored to the brand and consumer.

This is the latest example of brands increasingly using social media to engage with their customers. As we have seen with Twitter’s decision to open up its Moments feature to brands and the introduction of Instagram ads and Snap Ads on Snapchat, social platforms are keen to monetize on their popularity and brands are equally keen to reach engaged audiences.

Until now, social media specialists have prioritised standing out in the timelines and news feeds typified by Facebook and Twitter. But with the growth of one-to-one messaging signifying a shift towards private groups and messaging, it is clear that PRs and marketers need to be open-minded and adaptable in their approach.

We don’t yet know what this will look like in reality as there are no official tools available to brands yet. The only thing we do know, is that the aim is to make brand communications better targeted. From the examples available, there is clear scope for WhatsApp to become a customer service platform, with brands able to message customers in a more private and personal way than other social networks like Twitter and Facebook.

It seems that each time we have got our heads around the latest announcement from a social network, the next one comes along. Brands are under more pressure than ever to understand the options available and how they can use them to best reach their customers. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for communications through social media and how both brands and the public respond. Until WhatsApp reveals more we will just have to sit tight and wait and see what’s next.