Is WhatsApp no longer free? This question has been doing the rounds of the internet for the last few days. Before that question is answered, let us go back to 2014. Facebook had acquired this rising startup for a whopping $19 billion. At that time, it seemed like a bold move from the social media giant, since WhatsApp did not really have a business model nor did it intend to have one. Even now, with a presence in over 100 countries and 1.2 billion subscribers, WhatsApp still operates for free. There are no advertisements on the app too. But now, Facebook finally seems to have found a way to monetise WhatsApp. The messaging app has announced that it will launch business tools for enterprises which will help them to communicate with their customers. It will soon start charging for the new feature.
WhatsApp’s new business tools will mainly serve businesses by enabling them to talk to customers over the mobile app. The WhatsApp Business app is currently in a testing phase. Initially, the service will provide free services for small businesses, but at a later stage, they may charge large enterprises for a host of communication tools to reach customers. This essentially means that Facebook has opted for a different profit model than advertising revenue. However, this will be a non-intrusive feature since users will have to choose the company with which they wish to interact with on WhatsApp. They will also have the option to block users. The businesses or enterprises will get a verified profile and users will be able to identify them with a ‘Green Tick’.
When it comes to India, WhatsApp is so popular that out of the global 1.3 billion users we are 200 million (the biggest in the world). So, definitely, Facebook will like to expand and strategize more in India when it comes to the business app. WhatsApp has already started testing the new feature with some popular companies like BookMyShow and a few others. It remains to be seen when the feature will be formally launched. You will get to know when you see a ‘Green’ tick beside their names. The company has not revealed when it will start charging for the service.
The reason why WhatsApp has become so popular in India is that it provides messaging for free, without any hassles (ads), and with a more private atmosphere. It remains to be seen how people will react to random companies messaging them on the app. A similar app was started in China called WeChat, where it evolved from a small messaging platform to let users book cabs, order food, pay bills and more. We may also see Uber or Ola services introduced in WhatsApp, once the Business app arrives.