[App Fridays] WhatsApp for Business sees a soft launch in India with BookMyShow. Can it kill SMS?
It was around 9:25 pm on a weekday in 2005. I was watching a popular primetime show on StarPlus. With a feature phone in hand, I waited with bated breath for the intermission. It began and I glanced at the screen, read the question and the four options with it and sent out an SMS. The television show was 'Kaun Banega Crorepati' and I had just interacted with the brand through an ‘audience question round’ over my phone.
The experience was exhilarating. Through a text message, I had just interacted with the brand and participated in a national quiz contest, where I stood a chance to win a two lakh cash prize.
Fast forward to 2017, we are in the age of smartphones and apps.
Brands are now trying to keep up with the times and reach out to consumers in a more intuitive manner. JioChat recently partnered with 'Kaun Banega Crorepati' to launch an integration, which lets users play the quiz at 9 pm, when the programme is aired on television. I had a feeling of deja vu when I saw it. This felt like a delta 4 improvement over the experience from 2005.
While standalone apps are a dime a dozen, only communication apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Instagram and Snapchat can boast of extremely engaged users. Brands want to get a piece of that pie!
In this week’s App Friday story let us explore how brands have integrated or are now integrating themselves in instant messaging platforms.
Brands and communication apps
Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have a coveted ‘blue tick’ which they give out to companies and influential personalities, to help users identify brands and drive conversations forward. WhatsApp recently joined the bandwagon with the announcement of a verified ‘green badge’ of their own.
After being acquired by Facebook, WhatsApp had made a move to drop their subscription fee and instead opt for a B2B channel, as a source of their revenue in 2016. Now that day seems closer. Recently some BookMyShow users had shared screenshots of how they had got a message from BookMyShow powered by WhatsApp.
So far, WhatsApp has so far been a walled garden, inaccessible for brands. But according to their product pipeline, WhatsApp will soon be opening a door to its garden and allow businesses to interact with customers directly. A ‘window’ seems to have opened now.
YourStory reached out to both WhatsApp and BookMyShow to understand more about the recent developments. BookMyShow reverted but declined to comment about the developments at this stage. A source close to BookMyShow noted that this was a work-in-progress and the feature had been rolled out to select customers for testing.
It makes sense for BookMyShow to leverage WhatsApp for Business and its Indian user base, which is estimated to be over 200 million monthly active users. BookMyShow though recently launched Plan It, a feature that let users make movie plans within the BookMyShow app.
BookMyShow declined to comment about questions related to similarities and dissimilarities between the WhatsApp for Business integration and Plan It, at this time. WhatsApp too hasn’t responded to multiple questions related to how their green badge works and the partners that it is working with. We will update the story with their inputs, when either or both company responds.
What we do know about WhatsApp’s blue tick
According to the FAQ section on WhatsApp’s website, the company has a pilot programme and is working with a small number of businesses, to explore ways for their brands and users to interact with each other. This development was first reported by The Verge and TechCrunch. In the FAQ section, WhatsApp notes,
Some business accounts have been verified by WhatsApp. If you see a green badge next to a contact's name, it means that WhatsApp has confirmed that the phone number of this contact belongs to a business account...WhatsApp will also let you know when you start talking to a business via yellow messages inside a chat. There is no way to delete these messages from the chat.
If a user already has a business's phone number saved in their address book, then they will see the name that they have saved in their address book. Otherwise, users will see the name that the business has chosen for itself. Users can also block businesses, if they wish and stop a business from contacting them on WhatsApp.
Other communication apps that work with brands
WhatsApp has achieved unprecedented levels of success across age groups because of simplicity in terms user interface and experience. So, businesses will need to be added in a contextual manner in a way that doesn’t alienate the current userbase, many of whom have become accustomed to it.
WhatsApp for business isn’t public yet. But one can look at other players in the market and get an idea of what is in store.
Messenger - Facebook’s messenger app serves as an instant messaging app for one’s Facebook friends, but can also be set as an SMS app, if needed. Facebook is currently working with brands to create an ecosystem where Messenger users can find and contact different business through the messenger app itself. After purchasing a product from a platform, messenger users can choose to receive updates in Messenger and continue their conversation with the business in the app. To deal with high volume requests, brands can also leverage bots to drive the experience for different use cases.
Telegram - Another popular instant messaging app, Telegram too lets brands interact with their users. Developers can build bots for brands that will interact with humans. Some of the perks include ability to integrate HTML 5 games, and also custom keyboards for different tasks.
JioChat - As highlighted earlier, JioChat, currently includes channels tab which lets users follow and interact with brands of their choice. The channels that a user interacts with on a regular basis, then pops up in the main chat tab, along with the human accounts one interacts with.
Can WhatsApp for business and other players kill SMS?
Slack was once predicted to be an email-killer and though it is a popular application that has decreased reliance on emails for internal conversations, email is still around. The current ‘billion dollar question’ is if WhatsApp for Business can kill SMS.
It is probably too early to place bets, but WhatsApp seems to be working towards that goal. According to reports, WhatsApp will soon facilitate instant money transfer via the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) transaction system. Hike though beat WhatsApp in this regard and became the first messenger app in India to launch mobile payments, powered by UPI.
But given network drops and congestions that occur in developing markets, brands may still keep SMS as an alternate channel to reach customers, in such cases. WhatsApp for Business may weaken SMS, but the digital equivalent of Yamraj may have to stick around for many more years before it can escort SMS to the ‘digital graveyard’.
Related read: Can Google kill WhatsApp?