KEY MESSAGE: I think the new WhatsApp Channels tool could be huge for you

Well, I do try not to get too carried away with new tools on platforms but what WhatsApp are looking to do is absolutely game changing.

Think of a piece of hyperbole and then double it. Bread that’s sliced. It’s potentially that big.

Let me tell you what and how you can use it.

It’s called WhatsApp Channels and will be a way for an organisation to send broadcast messages in large number to people on WhatsApp. That’s something that’s been pretty impossible to do before.

Why this matters 

In the UK, Ofcom say that WhatsApp is the 3rd largest social channel with 39.8 million users. That’s 58 per cent of the population.

Not only that but it’s the closest thing to a universal social media platform that you are likely to see. It works across all demographics. User rates run at around 80 to 90 per cent from 16-year-olds to 64-year-olds. For over 65’s its 58 per cent. 

In other words by using WhatsApp you can potentially hit EVERYONE. 

It replaces the fiddly WhatsApp for Business option 

As a platform, WhatsApp is in a powerful position but there’s not been a tool to effectively tap into it. 

What there has been until now is WhatsApp for Business. This allowed people to sign-up for broadcast messages in a GDPR-compliant way. Using this route, messages land with subscribers but people on the list not being able to see each other’s phone numbers. Also, they can’t hijack the conversation with their own thoughts.

Sounds great?

It potentially was but there were three big downsides. Firstly, there was a limit of 256 sign-ups for the free version. Second, no analytics.  Third, in practice you had to buy a new phone and keep it running in the corner of the office to make WhatsApp for Business work.

Public Health Wales and councils in London used this route in the pandemic.

I’ve been highlighting WhatsApp for Business as a potential tool for several years always with the expectation that a better tool would emerge. 

WhatsApp Channels looks to be that tool.

What WhatsApp Channels will look like

In a blog post announcing Channels, the WhatsApp say the tools will be found in a new updates tab. It’ll be separate from updates from friends and family but importantly, it’ll be a toe in the door for WhatsApp.

You’ll be  able to send updates, pictures, video, stickers ad polls. 

Helpfully, channel admin’s details won’t be visible to users. 

How to use it

In the words of Danny the Dealer from Withnail & I, cool your boots, man.

WhatsApp Channels is being launched in Singapore and Colombia first. It’ll take some time to reach the UK but yes, it’s worth keeping an eye on the horizon.

Normally, I’ll wait until its launched in the UK before flagging it but this feels so significant .

From the limited information available, you’ll have to sign people up for it. If its anything like WhatsApp for Business you’ll be able to do this via your Facebook page if you synch the two together, through  QR code and a web link. The blog post talks about how invites can be sent to people and that there’ll be a directory.

The example shows WhatsApp Channels featuring a ‘City Council’ example which is encouraging for the public sector.  

As far as tactics are concerned, one of the most powerful ways to use WhatsApp is to ask people to forward the message to people in their WhatsApp directory. By doing this the messages, in effect, come forwarded on from a friend, neighbour or colleague and aren’t treated with the suspicion or indifference a random message can be treated with.

One thing that may be worth thinking through is exactly what audience to pitch this too. A very generalised scattergun approach with all 1,200 services local government has to offer may fall between 1,200 stools. So maybe there’s a multitude of channels with maybe one for parents, one for people who live in a specific ward or users of a particular park.    

The drift away from the town square

This further shos the trend away from the town square model of social media back to something quite historic. It’s going from conversation to literal broadcast. At a time when social media can be toxic at times that’s an approach that I suspect many will like to experiment with.

It also really opens up messaging as a communications tool. Meta have experimented with toolls like WhatsApp and Messenger as customer services tools before with some success.

It further shows how the landscape is filled with turbulence at the moment more so than at any point in the last 15 years.

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