WhatsApp is testing a tool to enable users to communicate with businesses and organisations they want to hear from.
Jan Koum, founder of WhatsApp, explained that the move could see the messaging mobile and web app used to bypass phone calls and traditional messaging when contacting companies.
“That could mean communicating with your bank about whether a recent transaction was fraudulent, or with an airline about a delayed flight,” said Koum.
“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.”
The plans were announced alongside the removal of WhatsApp’s annual subscription fee of $0.99.
The fee has not worked well for the company, according to Koum, and WhatsApp could create a lucrative revenue stream by allowing companies to pay to communicate with around 900 million users.
Koum has stated that WhatsApp will not introduce adverts into its services, and will certainly need to find a new revenue source to keep its business in the black.
However, WhatsApp is owned by Facebook following a whopping $19bn transaction, and there is a risk that introducing companies to the WhatsApp network could cannibalise some of the audience for Facebook’s native messaging app, specifically Business for Messenger which is currently being trialled in a preview form.
Alternatively, offering a second messaging platform for businesses yet retaining control over both could see Facebook expand the reach and appeal of its messaging services to the business world.
WhatsApp has a strong presence in emerging markets, which gives Facebook a way to reach new companies and audiences for the Messenger service.
Effectively having two complementary rather than conflicting platforms could give Facebook a strong pair of messaging services to offer businesses.
But if WhatsApp is going to bring companies and individual users together, it will need to bolster security to protect from hackers and plug flaws that could leave millions open to cyber threats.
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