8th May, 2017

Harnessing the power of WhatsApp: Are you missing out?

Do you know which social networks are the most widely used worldwide? The answer might surprise you.

In recent months WhatsApp has quickly climbed up the list, with its number of active users (~1 billion) rivalling or overtaking those of Facebook (1.871 billion), Facebook messenger (~1 billion), Chinese microblogging and messaging sites QQ (877 million) and WeChat (846 million), Instagram (600 million), Tumblr (550 million), Twitter (317 million), Snapchat (300 million), and others (numbers accurate as of Jan 2017). Now sitting second only to Facebook, WhatsApp is hugely popular in both Hong Kong and Singapore, and is a good indicator of just how important mobile has become in social media use. In fact, the Asia-Pacific region is seeing incredible growth in this sector, prompting some businesses to turn to unconventional apps and sites in a bid to build a brand presence and grow their profits.

This sounds good on paper, but how exactly could one go about using WhatsApp, a one-to-one messaging service, in a business capacity?

1. Customer support

The big bonus that platforms such as WhatsApp have is that they are instant and already widely used, and thus allow you to be far more accessible to your customers and clients. It’s also possible to convey a little of your personality and speak less formally, which can go a long way in areas such as customer service, support, complaints and/or feedback, and general communication with valued clients. One limitation of this would be the size of your customer support department—it would be impractical to reply to hundreds of messages per day, but a smaller boutique firm might find the app incredibly useful (especially if based in Asia, where it is more common to do business via apps such as WhatsApp).

2. Marketing

While WhatsApp does not approve active business use (such as soliciting business or direct advertising), it is possible to use WhatsApp in the same way as any other social media platform: to build brand awareness and forge useful relationships with potential clients and interested parties you may have met through other means (traditional networking, for example). WhatsApp is relatively comprehensive; alongside sending written messages and emojis, you can share locations, files, video, images, voice messages, and chat in real-time with individuals or groups (max. 50 people). In countries where WhatsApp is widespread, using the platform opens up a whole other market to explore. In an interview with the Telegraph, the co-founder of diamond ring creator Rare Pink, Nickolay Piriankov, expanded on this idea of cultural connection: “Chinese customers often prefer the privacy and ease of their local service, WeChat. In one of the weirdest conversations ever, where I got hardly any responses, I sent through images and quotes to a wholesale customer. I only knew the customer was engaged because I could see that the message was read. I persisted and eventually got an order that remains one of our largest ever.”

3. Internal communication

WhatsApp allows you to monitor which messages have been read, and clearly notes when they were sent. This can be helpful if you’re juggling many different projects at once. Rather than seeking one individual on a team and relying on them to pass along your words accurately, it can be simpler to send a group message to the relevant individuals. This is simply a more modern take on a group email, but has its merits due to its wide reach (your staff are likely on the app anyway!), simplicity, instant reply times, read receipts, and more. The messages are promptly and easily searchable and always on hand whenever you have your phone, which is a bonus if a colleague needs to quickly access a piece of information at a client meeting. The key upside to using an app such as WhatsApp is that it taps into the urgency of modern communication; in a way, email, as a more traditional form of communication, allows more of a lag time, and operates on a different timeline. With WhatsApp, however, it is common to get a response within minutes (if not quicker).

4. Creative thinking

There will always be a way that your business could creatively make use of WhatsApp. have some great examples of how the app has been used by various businesses, including the BBC (to update people on Ebola during the 2014 crisis, and more recently via a series telling the stories of marginalised young Africans), Clarks (via an interactive storytelling campaign), and Hellman’s (via a live and customised recipe service). As with more traditional media (e.g. print advertising), there is no single right way to use the app, and countless ways to potentially build your business.

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