/ Trends

WhatsApp experiments with Business Accounts. What next?

Its only halfway through January and yet 2016 is already proving to be the year when Messaging platforms will really come to the fore. Instant Messaging is already growing faster than Social Media.

With the exception of the likes of WeChat and LINE, most messaging apps were previously focussed on simply connecting users and racking up their MAUs (Monthly Active Users). Businesses and by extension monetisation was more of an afterthought. However, in the last few months there has been a shift to include businesses in the conversation.

Facebook Messenger led the way allowing businesses to offer support through a partnership with Zendesk. Next came the flurry of personal assistant bots with the promise of helping customers find products and services through chat. A new buzz word- Message Commerce has even been coined to describe this.

At Ongair, we’ve been believers in the potential for Messaging to revolutionise communication between businesses and consumers in the same way WhatsApp and WeChat changed how we keep in touch with friends and family.

In 2014, we started with WhatsApp - then the most popular messaging app in our target markets. In 2015, we integrated WeChat, Telegram & Messenger and will add more shortly. Here’s a few things we’ve learnt along the way:

1. No one app shall rule them all.

As WhatsApp nears 1 billion MAUs, its tempting to see it as the runaway winner much like the way Facebook destroyed Myspace and all else in its wake. There are a few reasons why this will not be the case. The first is Geography. This seems almost counter-intutive in the internet age, but the Top 3 messaging apps are dominant in 3 key geographical regions. WeChat dominates South East Asia, WhatsApp dominates Africa and South America (while challenging for Asia ) and Messenger dominates in North America, and Europe.

Not surprising the top two are owned by the same company. The second reason is network effects, the top 3 apps already have momentum and critical mass to generate lock-in with their users.

2. Instant Messaging is not SMS or MMS.

In as much as businesses are excited and ready for this new way to reach customers, there is still a lot of training required when it comes to B2C communication etiquette via IM. This would explain why Messenger and WhatsApp have described their initial foray as experiments.

By far the most requested feature of Ongair has been unsolicited bulk messaging. Most businesses are tempted to see this as a way to send cheaper yet higher fidelity ‘spam’ messages to unsuspecting subscribers. Think email with almost 90% open rates - a marketer’s wet dream. Unfortunately this will result in a horrible experience for the whole network. Messaging platforms will need to develop rules on how businesses can contact consumers. WeChat is already way ahead with this.

What does this all mean for Ongair?

This is a question that we expect to be answering often in the coming days. Building a business on top of another platform always carries an inherent risk. The brief history of the internet economy is littered with several examples of pros and cons, with Twitter often featuring as the villain.

The most extreme example of this that we’ve recently seen is Meerkat vs Periscope. Meerkat was the first popular live-streaming mobile app which relied heavily on Twitter until the latter rolled out their own solution and used API limits to muscle out Meerkat.

I’m glad to report that we’ve received the news of WhatsApp planing to open its platforms to businesses with great excitement.

Not only is this a validation for a use case that our customers have been requesting for a long time, but announcements like this draw more attention to our value proposition. We saw this last year when WhatsApp announced WhatsApp for Web.

Initially we expected several customers to ‘downgrade’ from using Ongair but instead the opposite happened. We saw an increased demand for Ongair. It was also easier to explain what we were doing once people had tried out WhatsApp for Web and realised that it was great for personal use but not scalable for team use.

As a company we’ve come a long way in refining who we are and what we do.

Our decision over 6 months ago to expand to other apps wasn’t just for risk mitigation. It was about expanding our vision. WhatsApp is a great app used by close to 1 billion users every month through a very simple interface, without third-party ads and spam.

As Mark Zuckerberg suggested,

The long term bet is that by enabling people to have good organic interactions with businesses, that will end up being a massive multiplier on the value of the monetization down the road when we work on that and really focus on that in a bigger way

Good, organic interactions with businesses. We believe that while they can handle the consumer side of the interactions - Ongair will always be there to streamline the business end of the interactions.