Facebook Inc. is getting ready to earn back some of the US$22 billion it spent to buy the messaging service WhatsApp three years ago, the Wall Street Journal reports.
WhatsApp will eventually charge companies to use some future features in the two free business tools it started testing this summer, WhatsApp chief operating officer Matt Idema, said in an interview.
The new tools, which help businesses from local bakeries to global airlines talk to customers over the app, reflect a different approach to monetization than other Facebook products, which rely on advertising.
“We want to put a basic foundation in place to allow people to message businesses and for them to get the responses that they want,” Idema said. “We do intend on charging businesses in the future.”
The free WhatsApp Business app allows small businesses to field customer questions or send them updates. Larger companies can do the same with another free tool that lets them plug directly into the WhatsApp platform. WhatsApp is also rolling out verified profiles for businesses so its one billion daily users can distinguish between a person and a business.
Companies in Brazil, Europe, India and Indonesia are testing the free services, including KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. Users must “opt in” to be contacted by a business, a WhatsApp spokeswoman said.
Idema declined to describe the paid features or say when they would make their debut. “We don’t have the details of monetization figured out,” he said.
The business tools being tested, detailed in a blog post Tuesday, are another sign of Facebook’s intention to cash in on messaging as it grapples with a slowdown in revenue growth from its core service, news feed.
Facebook owns two of the world’s most popular messaging apps, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg predicts that messaging could yield dividends for the company within five years.
In July, Facebook started showing advertisements inside Messenger, sandwiched between users’ conversations when they open the app. The strategy is similar to how Facebook monetizes the news feed and Instagram, the photo and video-sharing app it bought for $1 billion in 2012.
Idema didn’t rule out that WhatsApp could show ads to users at some point but said the focus was now on connecting businesses and users. Last year, WhatsApp started sharing its user data with Facebook, a step to improve Facebook’s ad targeting and friend suggestions.
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