WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned messaging service with 1 billion users, announced in a blog post that it has started verifying business accounts to test ways for companies to communicate directly with customers, reported Business Insider. In addition, WhatsApp is said to be preparing a standalone app for businesses to chat with customers, according to an analysis of the app's code by WABetaInfo and per Business Insider. WABetaInfo said the upcoming standalone app would allow businesses to set working hours and manage automatic messages.
On the new verified business accounts support page, WhatsApp said it will show a green checkmark next to businesses that have a confirmed phone number associated with their WhatsApp account. It appears that having a verified business account would allow a company to send automatic messages to customers, Business Insider reported.
A WhatsApp spokesperson declined to comment to Business Insider on its verified business program or plans for a standalone app for businesses.
WhatsApp's verified business program will give brands another channel to communicate with their customers, especially younger generations who are more often communicating via chat apps. Other major messaging apps already offer customer service and connection points for businesses and consumers, but WhatsApp has largely resisted accommodating these functions to date.
WhatsApp has, for years, remained ad-free, which likely keeps users happy but doesn't help its monetization strategy. The app being more of a customer service tool and supporting one-to-one outreach between brands and consumers could increase its value and revenue opportunities if payments are part of the mix. Following Facebook's $22 billion purchase of WhatsApp in 2014, it also seemed to warm up to the possibility of seeking sponsors.
That's not to say it's entering a space with no competition. In a developer preview earlier this year, Apple announced Business Chat for iMessage, which connects consumers to businesses via message icons next to business names in Maps, searches or Siri. Conversations in Business Chat are initiated by the customer. Facebook's Messenger also offers marketers the opportunity to use chatbots and in-app payments. Reports that Facebook was testing the ability for businesses to open chats in WhatsApp as part of a partnership with a startup accelerator program surfaced in March.
Facebook has been seeking ways to bolster revenue with apps like WhatsApp and Instagram as its business model matures and ad load growth slows on its main product.