WhatsApp has started testing a business version of its chat app that will allow customers to contact companies directly through instant messages, a move that will likely result in monetisation of the platform.
We reported last year that WhatsApp had announced a new roadmap following its 11.2 billion takeover by Facebook, signalling a shift in focus and dramatic changes to its terms and conditions.
Part of that shift was a consideration to monetise the platform for the first time, something that, until the involvement of Facebook, WhatsApp had been staunchly against.
When considering the introduction of sponsored ads on the platform in 2012, the company famously produced a blog post that described advertising as a "disruption of aesthetics" and an "insult to your intelligence".
However, it appears WhatsApp is now much more open to the idea of charging larger companies for using its mobile application, as well as testing new features for a free version of its chat platform for smaller businesses, according to a blog post on Tuesday.
While many smaller businesses are already using WhatsApp to communicate with customers, such as a shop taking an order, customers have complained that they don't always know whether the account they are chatting with is the business it claims to be.
"The way this happens now on WhatsApp is pretty rudimentary," the company said in the post. "We've heard stories of shopkeepers who use WhatsApp to stay in touch with hundreds of customers from a single smartphone, and from people who are unsure about whether or not a business on WhatsApp is authentic."
WhatsApp will address those concerns by allowing businesses to create verified accounts on the platform, drawing inspiration from Twitter.
A larger enterprise version of the app, designed for companies with a global base of customers, such as airlines, e-commerce sites and banks, is planned to be a paid application, according to COO Matt Idema, speaking to the Wall Street Journal.
Firms will be able to use the platform to send notifications to customers, including flight times, delivery confirmations and status updates, although it's unclear whether this version will feature a means to chat directly.
WhatsApp has also confirmed to TechCrunch that "businesses will only be able to contact people who have provided their phone number and agreed to be contacted by the business over WhatsApp".
It's unclear from WhatsApp's brief blog post what the precise scope of the test will be, and which businesses will be involved. IT Pro has approached WhatsApp for clarification.
However, the company said it would be listening carefully to feedback during the test phase and that it would keep users informed as to when these tools will become widely available.
Get the ITPro. daily newsletter
Receive our latest news, industry updates, featured resources and more. Sign up today to receive our FREE report on AI cyber crime & security - newly updated for 2023.
Dale Walker is the Managing Editor of ITPro, and its sibling sites CloudPro and ChannelPro. Dale has a keen interest in IT regulations, data protection, and cyber security. He spent a number of years reporting for ITPro from numerous domestic and international events, including IBM, Red Hat, Google, and has been a regular reporter for Microsoft's various yearly showcases, including Ignite.