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A Chinese perspective on WhatsApp for Business: A future WeChat?

Few days ago, WhatsApp made a surprising announcement on its willingness to open its platform to businesses and allow users to interact with their favourite brands directly within the application.

While it still remains to be seen how this interaction between brands and the users will materialise, Jan Koum – WhatsApp CEO, was quick to acknowledge that ‘no line of code’ had been written yet.

An analysis of the current scenario in China can help us arrive at a fair assumption on what brands can expect on WhatsApp. Brands that have an in-depth understanding of WeChat marketing methods will certainly have leverage over the others while using WhatsApp for business.

The question remains as to what users and businesses can expect from the platform. It may be interesting to see if WhatsApp can handle WeChat’s growing user base while also trying to remain distinguishable from the rest. This certainly comes with the risk of being perceived as a platform based off of WeChat’s current offerings for businesses.

Types of accounts and publication frequency
Similar to WeChat’s strategy, it is expected that brands will be able to create their WhatsApp account on a dedicated online platform and back-office. The question is, whether WhatsApp would offer only a single type of account as opposed to multiple ones offered by WeChat as follows:
Service accounts: These accounts are used by most brands, with a limitation of four posts per month. The visibility of this account is high as it appears in the list of the user’s friends.
Subscription accounts: The visibility of these accounts are lower since they populate in a dedicated category but comes with an option of a much higher post frequency of one post per day.

In the light of how WeChat has evolved in China, we can anticipate that WhatsApp will allow the use of service accounts to a number of selected brands whereas subscription accounts will be widely accessible.

However, WhatsApp could also decide to operate with subscription-like accounts to make this business move less visible to the user.

A more plausible conclusion is that WhatsApp may limit the number of posts to enable brands to adopt a qualitative approach to their content. This approach may help in avoiding subscription terminations by users.

Services offered by the companies
One can foresee that most interactions on WhatsApp will be within the chat itself. This implies that companies need to assign a WhatsApp dedicated customer service. For instance, airlines may expect to receive a large volume of messages from customers that expect instantaneous responses, as it is the case in China on WeChat.

To make life easier for brands, WhatsApp must invest in creating a system which allows users to easily get answers to already asked questions without human intervention. In WeChat this is done in two ways:

• A tailor-made menu bar at the bottom of the page acts as a mini-site containing up to 15 categories that enables the user to receive an automatic response or be redirected to the brand’s official mobile website, for instance.

• A keyword recognition system which enables brands to set up automatic user responses.
Another key question is how swiftly WhatsApp can launch a payment system and establish online stores.
This is where the real challenge lies as WeChat has largely succeeded in China by simplifying its users’ daily life: one can do almost everything with their WeChat account and the platform has built a very comprehensive ecosystem in China.

Fan recruitment
Like on any other platform, recruitment will be the first challenge for brands willing to leverage WhatsApp for business. The question therefore is whether WhatsApp will make life easier for announcers or not. For example on WeChat, announcers cannot use a clickable ‘link’ on their official website or in emails to redirect users to their WeChat account. It is only on WeChat that the user is able to follow a brand by either scanning the official account’s QR code or search for the brand’s name in a dedicated search box.

It is likely that WhatsApp adopts a similar attitude to prevent brands from launching recruitment campaigns too “aggressively”. It is also uncertain if this will generalise the use of QR code as it is the case in China. No matter what the outcome is, one must notice that a Chinese service is now in position to inspire a Silicon Valley giant!

Aurelien Ferrie

In China since 2010, Aurelien FERRIE joined KRDS in 2013 as General Manager - Greater China. With KRDS, he is helping international clients (Air France, Club Med, Louis Vuitton) to grow their visibility on Chinese social media platforms. With a strong experience in sales and marketing, Aurelien quickly became an expert of Chinese social media platforms, especially WeChat, that he consider to be one of the most innovative platform in the world. His ambition is to keep growing his digital expertise and experience to keep offering the most innovative online solutions to brands in China
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