In February 2014, messaging platform WhatsApp joined the Facebook family with their adless reputation still intact. Since its launch in 2009, WhatsApp has drawn in users with its “no-ads” mantra and its end-to-end encryption, but those days seem to be numbered with the announcement of ads which will appear on the Status page coming to the service in 2019.
What Do We Know?
The WhatsApp Status feature was introduced in early 2017 and works much in the same way as many other Story platforms like Facebook and Instagram Stories, and Snapchat. Users can upload photos to show their contacts what they’re up to, with the promise that these videos will be gone in 24 hours. However, uptake has been weak with less than 50% of account holders making use of the feature.
Despite this, and against the platform’s long-standing commitment to providing an ad-free service, Facebook has confirmed that ads will be rolled out into the Status feature at some point in 2019 to the dismay of users and stakeholders alike. WhatsApp’s co-founders didn’t originally know that Facebook wanted to start sharing data across platforms to help target ads at users, which in part led to Brian Acton leaving the company last September.
Users are also unhappy about the news, as it appears many of the platform’s main selling points have now gone to the wayside. WhatsApp’s founders never wanted to know more than your phone number and promised end-to-end message encryption, but many are worried about how much information will be scraped from their private conversations.
What Don’t We Know?
A big question that many advertisers will have is how linked it will be to Facebook, as this will have an impact on the level of targeting available, how much information about a user is made available, and how tied to the Facebook Ads Manager it will be.
For instance, by linking a WhatsApp profile to a Facebook account, this gives an advertiser access to all of Facebook’s targeting methods, raising the question, how easy it will be to integrate WhatsApp advertising into your social advertising campaigns. Will WhatsApp be part of the Facebook Ads Manager – like Instagram is – or will it be managed independently?
WhatsApp operates on a very low barrier to entry, only requiring a phone number to sign up. As such, will the platform be able to link this mobile number to a Facebook account? This will provide more information than is currently available on WhatsApp alone. With account information, advertisers will be able to apply similar targeting strategies to those on Facebook such as interest segments and lookalikes.
It will be interesting to see what kind of creative formats are available: will there be a variety, as there is for Instagram Stories, or will it be more like Facebook Messenger where you can only use single image ads.
There will be a lot of questions about how much information will be scraped from messages and just how much personal data will be shared between Facebook’s platforms. This will be crucial to getting consumer buy-in, as many users will be frustrated if they feel like information from their private conversations is being exploited.
Furthermore, the only ad format being put forward at the moment will appear in the WhatsApp Status, similar to Facebook or Instagram Stories, which are viewed by less than 50% of users. Whether this is extended out into Chat remains to be seen, as this may result in people deserting the service and thus making it unprofitable as an advertising platform.
Currently, we have more questions than answers, but monetising WhatsApp was going to happen at some point, even if it has been soon than many would have liked or even anticipated. This is certainly a platform to keep an eye on as the potential is enormous, but testing will be necessary to assess the actual value.