By Alicja Gados

On May 10th popular chat tool WhatsApp released a much anticipated, new desktop app giving users a new way to keep in touch. The app is now available on Windows 8 and Mac OS 10.9 and up and syncs with your mobile device.  The app mirrors conversations and messages from the mobile app, and acts like an extension of the mobile device.

With this update, you can message people when at your computer and stay off your phone.  The app runs natively on your desktop giving better keyboard shortcuts and all the benefits that come with using a computer versus a mobile device. It has support for native desktop notifications.

WhatsApp has been available on desktop before, using a web client called WhatsApp Web, initially launched in January of 2015. The new desktop app offers more support, the ability to use keyboard shortcuts, and to have messages open in a separate window instead of having it open in one of your multiple browser tabs.

What is WhatsApp?

Haven’t heard of WhatsApp? Facebook owned WhatsApp is the biggest messaging application in the world, boasting more than 1 billion active users. It’s only worked on the phone until now. The company has impressive growth, growing by about 1 million users a day.

You can create chat groups or individual chats, sending photos, videos or locations.  It works great to keep in touch where roaming or long distance fees may prevent communication, and great for keeping in touch with friends or family that live far away. The business applications for the platform extend easily from these capabilities. Group texting available on WhatsApp is already very popular among many businesses and organizations. 

WhatsApp for business

Messaging apps are the latest trend in social media for companies targeting customers, and earlier this year, WhatsApp has finally invited businesses into its massive user network. Chat apps are becoming more and more popular these days as they are more efficient, and quicker than sending emails.  

WhatsApp can be used in business in order to open new channels to get in touch with customers. Examples of some of the main ways that customers can be reached are in: customer assistance, support in real time, online ordering, feedback as well as team communication and coordination efforts in offices.

WhatsApp: no longer just for your mobile device. 

WhatsApp: no longer just for your mobile device. 

Business messaging tools

One of the most popular tools for communicating on chat platforms is called Slack. Slack has done well in the workplace communication environment.

Slack is a popular group-messaging app that’s used in workplaces. Since it started, it has collected 3 million daily users, and it’s now valued at almost $4 billion US. Based out of San Francisco, its main success has been with tech startups, where it is widely used for workplace communication.   

Apps like Slack have done really well on the desktop. Slack is generally used as a workplace tool while WhatsApp is used for personal messaging for friends and family. In the workplace, people use it to chat to fellow workmates about where to go for lunch and some use it to communicate with customers. 

Since Slack is popular with workplace and business use, that leads to a lot less temptation about mixing work conversations with personal ones, such as may be the case with WhatsApp, which is already well established in personal communications.  But the upgrades will certainly make it more appealing to business and professional use, especially if special features are added on over time that will make office communications more professional, such as an administrator portal.   

How WhatsApp makes money

WhatsApp is now totally free to use.  Facebook bought WhatsApp for $19 billion (an impressive 950 times it’s 2013 revenue). They used to charge a 99 cent fee in countries where users had credit cards and are more likely to pay for apps on their mobile devices, like in the UK and the US.  Now with the acquisition, WhatsApp has a lot of its costs covered and no longer needs to charge a fee.

So now since Facebook owns WhatsApp, there is more pressure for the app to make money.  Two years ago when WhatsApp was bought, the company was largely left alone to discuss its growth while under Facebook.  But now that the user base has reached an impressive number they will likely start to find ways of charging. 

This year WhatsApp has announced that it will introduce tools to allow you to use the app to communicate with businesses and organizations.  For example, this can be anywhere from inquiring about a delayed flight from your airline to asking your bank about recent transactions. 

Messaging and Chats for business an emerging trend

Many businesses are already using the basic form of WhatsApp to communicate with their customers.  In Hong Kong, this practice is already very common: in certain restaurants, you can book a table by texting it on the app.  You can send a news tip to BBC using WhatsApp. These interactions are basically the same WhatsApp capabilities put to a different application. But businesses need more: they want analytics, ability to target and message a large group of customers at once and automated messages. Automated messages, or ‘bots’ are becoming really popular for businesses on messaging apps like WeChat and Facebook Messenger. 

WeChat for branding

WeChat uses chat for branding particularly well.  Luxury brands Burberry, Coach and Chanel are using this app to gain customers. WeChat business users can sell products directly to more than 600 million available users. This app is particularly popular in China, where WeChat is the most popular online resource for information on luxury goods.

Burberry uses WeChat to inform customers about style trends, news, new arrivals, popular products and link them back to their website.  They communicate to their customers visually by using stunning photography and videos to create a sense of nostalgia for their products. The app is also used for customer service, and most requests are answered within 24 hours.  

WeChat is probably the leader in bringing business to the messaging platform, and content based marketing in messaging. It’s likely that WhatsApp will follow some of their model.

What’s next for WhatsApp?

WhatsApp has plenty of examples to chose from where to go with its new business strategy. Since WhatsApp founders dislike advertising (they have been reluctant to sell ads in their app) they will likely stick to limited corporate users to simple and focused capabilities.  Perhaps it will allow a few select corporate customers access and at some point charge them for the service.    

If you don't use it yet, you can download WhatsApp on their website

Further Reading