The business case for WhatsApp: benefits vs risks

Business is becoming personal. Consumers increasingly demand personalised experiences, and that means direct contact. Little wonder, then, that one growing strategy among businesses is to reach out to customers on messaging apps.

Research backs up this thinking, with messaging apps boasting high engagement rates – and proving popular among young consumers. Nielsen’s Facebook Messaging Survey found that the majority of mobile messaging app users are more likely to spend at a business if they can message the organisation directly.

This trend has seen messaging app companies, most notably the Meta-owned WhatsApp, release dedicated tools for business owners. If you haven’t yet used WhatsApp for Business then you could be missing out.

What is WhatsApp for Business?

According to Meta’s most recent data, WhatsApp is the go-to messaging app for more than 2 billion consumers around the globe. It’s free, it’s simple and it’s ubiquitous.

And it’s grown into a flexible tool for personal use. Not only is it a convenient way for family and friends to chat one to one in a private and secure environment, but you can create group texts, share photos and videos, send and receive documents. All these are useful business tools, too.

Building on this popularity, along with a growing demand for internet-based direct communications, in 2018 WhatsApp launched a dedicated business app that allows companies to message customers directly within the WhatsApp messaging platform.

WhatsApp’s for Business, available for iOS and Android, also enables businesses to use tools that organise, automate and speed up the communication process.

For example, WhatsApp comes with “quick replies,” enabling businesses to provide fast answers to customers’ frequently asked questions, greetings messages that introduce a business. Similarly, “away messages” let customers know you’re busy. Companies can also use the app to send appointment reminders, shipping alerts, order notifications, verification codes and two-way customer surveys.

Businesses can also access basic analytics, which provides statistics such as the number of messages read. And it’s not just for use on phones: staff can send and receive messages from WhatsApp’s dedicated desktop app.

Which is the best alternative to WhatsApp?

Before you commit to WhatsApp, it makes sense to know if there are any viable alternatives. But this isn’t a simple question: as we cover shortly, there are many different ways to use WhatsApp — and none of its rivals directly matches it for features.

Take Skype for Business. With support for audio, video and text messaging, it sounds like an almost direct rival to WhatsApp. And, according to Enlyft, it’s used by 88,922 companies — including The North Face and Red Hat. However, it’s very much seen as a tool to connect teams rather than being a customer-facing tool.

Alternatively, you could consider Facebook Messenger. Like WhatsApp, it’s owned by Meta, but its integrations are all squarely aimed at Facebook users. If that’s where your audience is, and you already have a healthy presence there, then it’s a great choice. Still, though, we see it as complementing WhatsApp for Business rather than replacing it.

There are more alternatives too. Google Business Messages integrates with Google Search and Maps. 3CX has an excellent WordPress integration that can seamless move site visitors to text chat, voice chat and even video calls. Also consider JustCall and Threema.

Is WhatsApp for Business free?

Yes, WhatsApp Business is free to download and use on both Android and iPhones. Plus, businesses can currently have 1,000 conversations each month for free. So, for small and medium-sized businesses, WhatsApp for Business can be seen as a free tool.

After this, things get… complicated. If a customer responds to an ad on a Meta platform (Facebook, Instagram or WhatsApp) then these are considered “free entry point conversations” and you won’t be charged.

However, “business-initiated conversations” — where businesses reach out to customers — are a different matter. For now, these are free up to that 1,000 conversations limit, but come 1 June 2023 that all changes. You will be charged for each conversation, albeit not by much. For example, in the UK it’s a shade under 5p per business-initiated conversation.

For more details, visit this “Meta for Developers” page.

Why you should use WhatsApp for Business

With over 2 billion users, and given the fact the app comes pre-installed on a number of smartphones, it’s no surprise that WhatsApp is the world’s most popular messaging app. The Meta-owned app is more popular than Facebook Messenger, WeChat, Viber, Apple Business Chat or Telegram in terms of user numbers.

WhatsApp is also the most actively used messaging app on the market: research shows that 80% of WhatsApp messages are read in the first five minutes and that WhatsApp messages get an unbeatable 98% open rate and 45-60% click rate.

It’s good for brand presence

Unlike SMS, WhatsApp is tied directly to a single phone number and provides a branded business profile rather than a string of digits. This allows you to create a  fully branded business identity, providing customers with information such as email and phone contacts, social media links, store addresses, website URLs and suitable business details or offers.

WhatsApp also verifies all business accounts, so your customers know exactly who they’re talking to when they opt in to connect with you.

It’s reassuringly secure

One of the main benefits of WhatsApp is that it’s one of the most secure messaging apps on the market. Messages are end-to-end encrypted, and the app comes with two-factor authentication (2FA) baked in. This means that you can be confident that the users you’re messaging with are who they say they are.

Analytics and insights

The WhatsApp Business API delivers some basic analytics that will help you and your business see whether the app is working for you. For example, you can see the number of messages sent and delivered from specific phone numbers and the total estimated amount spent on messages.

The metrics are stored in the Insights tab, but the data can also be exported and segmented by phone number, message type and country.

The risks of using WhatsApp for Business

On the surface, WhatsApp Business presents itself as a fast, convenient and secure way to interact with colleagues and customers alike. However, there are some downsides to the app.

It’s not GDPR compliant

While many might assume that WhatsApp is GDPR complaint – it isn’t.

The app is designed to make GDPR compliance easier and, unlike the regular app, WhatsApp for Business doesn’t request access to a user’s contact information. It also allows businesses to provide an initial double opt-in (or a second automated message requesting consent) while providing information such as the company’s privacy policy.

However, these steps must be deliberately implemented by the business, which also must include other requirements. For example, giving consumers the right to be forgotten while keeping a record of all data obtained.

Security concerns

Although WhatsApp is widely believed to be one of the most secure messaging apps on the market thanks to its end-to-end encryption and built-in 2FA, some security concerns have arisen.

For, example, Kaspersky recently reported uncovering malicious versions of a WhatsApp messenger mod known as YoWhatsApp and WhatsApp Plus that were being used to spread the Triada mobile Trojan and steal WhatsApp access keys. 

It has limitations

There are some limitations to the WhatsApp for business app. Not only does it lack the advanced sales and service functionality of some other messaging products, but it also limits employee and accounts and devices.

For example, one account can be linked to five devices, but the devices are all linked to the same number. This could create confusion in communications, such as who has answered which customer question.

This article was updated on 17 April 2023.

Carly Page
Carly Page

Carly is a freelance technology journalist and editor with a long string of credits to her name. Her bylines include Forbes, IT Pro, The Metro, Stuff, TechCrunch , TechRadar, TES, Uswitch and WIRED.
She has written about collaboration and innovation for TechFinitive.