Higher costs are no deterrent for startups taking the social media route for advertising, marketing, easing operations or simply to strike a chord with consumers. Even though social media firms such as WhatsApp and Twitter have announced that they are going to make their pricing system for businesses costlier, startups say these platforms are a must-have, especially to reach the right audience.
“Customers now buy products based on social influence and reviews rather than brand communication. Influencers on social platforms offer brands a way to reach their audience in a format that is not directly selling the product. Social media provides a far more intimate connect and an opportunity to introduce brands and products more naturally. For us, Sirona became the highest-selling menstrual cups purely because of social media,” said Deep Bajaj, founder and CEO, Sirona Hygiene, a female hygiene product company.
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The experience has been similar for Pradeep Krishnakumar, co-founder and COO of vegan accessories, bags and footwear brand Zouk. “Social media plays a big role in building brand awareness with a new consumer base as well as engaging with existing customers. The combination of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp aids this in a big way for a brand like Zouk. We have over 250,000 followers across Instagram and Facebook,” he said.
According to Krishnakumar, the company also uses WhatsApp to engage with its customers. “They get to know about new product launches and offers and get support, too, via WhatsApp itself. Given WhatsApp is so deeply ingrained in our daily communication, it makes our dialogue with our customers a lot more personal,” he added.
The experience is similar for Anshita Mehrotra, founder of haircare brand Fix My Curls. Although social media platforms help brands connect with consumers, WhatsApp helps to “segregate your customers, and target them in a very personal way where it’s as if the brand is your ‘friend’ texting you!” she said.
“This close and personal method of communication is the closest you can get to a customer for the cheapest amount spent,” she said. “As a business, WhatsApp seems to be the most desirable because its focus is solely on conversions and customer retention which impacts businesses the most,” she added.
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From June 1, WhatsApp will roll out a three-category pricing system for businesses for business-initiated conversations. While currently, it charges a flat Rs 0.48 per conversation, it is set to change and will be cost based on the category the business chooses, as per media reports. The three categories are: Utility for informing customers about an ongoing transaction, marketing for offers and overall promotions, and a third — authentication to authenticate users.
While utility messages will cost Rs 0.3082 per conversation, for marketing messages, a business will have to fork out Rs 0.7265 per conversation. There is another category, authentication, for which the price is yet to be announced. WhatsApp Business, which aids businesses’ conversations with customers, declined to comment on the details.
As parent Meta is witnessing a fall in ad revenue, WhatsApp Business seems to be growing in prominence for monetisation. It is evident from chief Mark Zuckerberg’s previous comments, terming the tool a “major monetisation opportunity”. He also termed it as a key investment area for the company in 2023.
Not just WhatsApp Business, but Twitter might also become costlier for businesses. The micro-blogging site might start charging businesses $1,000 to keep their gold checkmark, as per an internal document seen by The Information. There will be an additional cost of $50 per month for each affiliated account. The development was first spotted by social media consultant Matt Navarra, who shared it on Twitter. Since billionaire technocrat Elon Musk assumed the reins of the company, he overhauled the Twitter Blue verification system, which now costs Rs 900 on mobile and Rs 650 on web. However, it became a huge headache especially for companies due to rise in impersonation. Twitter then rolled out gold checkmarks for businesses, along with gray for government-related accounts.
WhatsApp’s sister apps Instagram and Facebook are also rolling out Twitter-like feature on a pilot basis in Australia and New Zealand before launching in other geographies. The feature, called Meta Verified, can be bought at $11.99 (approximately Rs 990) on web and $14.99 (approximately Rs 1,240) on mobile. The feature, however, will not be available to businesses.
So, will pricier WhatsApp Business and social media platforms disincentivise businesses? “We have been great believers of WhatsApp. So even though for the business it is an investment, it is worth it for customer experience and convenience, said Bajaj of Sirona Hygiene. “However, the more commercialised these platforms get, chances are they may get intrusive for the customers. So, WhatsApp would have to be careful in their pricing and their strategy of opening it up for businesses for marketing and other purposes,” he added.
However, it is more complicated for subscription for the blue checkmark. “Till now, brands’ popularity and the blue tick on Twitter has been an ‘earned’ mark. Now, that credibility would become a commodity and anyone with money, irrespective of how good the business actually is — would get it. Personally, I think it shouldn’t be done. Business-wise too, Twitter charging for giving a blue tick would be fair only if there is legit due diligence in verifying the business and making the process for giving the blue fair and open. This is essential as customers may make transactions based on the brand credibility that has been bought by the brand from Twitter,” Bajaj explained.
Seconding Bajaj, Mehrotra said, “Twitter moving from its credibility-based model to a revenue model for its tick system is not the best idea. This is the same with awards being bought with money, the credibility of a jury assessing the nominees is what makes an award worth receiving. Similarly, the Twitter blue tick signified credibility for an account and a sense of security checks and authenticity to followers, which now won’t be there,” she said.
Meanwhile, WhatsApp Business remains important for businesses and they are not looking at decreasing engagement any time soon, especially as it better aids a two-way conversation with consumers. But with added costs, they are also looking at more features to aid businesses. “WhatsApp has been a great medium to get direct access to customers and we hope that with cost, there will be value-add in terms of features and user experience. We as a team would continue to use these platforms aggressively for customer communication and promotion considering its penetration and ease of use,” said Sneh Jain, co-founder and managing director of The Baker’s Dozen. Zouk’s Krishnakumar, too, sees the addition as a better way to engage with customers. “We just make sure our content fits well in the WhatsApp ecosystem as well, where the content is valuable and not spammy. We have seen far better engagement levels with WhatsApp in fact, based on our early experiments,” he said.
Engagement with consumers remains prominent and increased cost across platforms will hardly play any deterrent. “The idea at the end of the day is to run business which are more profitably and effective and for that we will always look at avenues which will help in achieving those objectives. We as a team will keep on exploring different formats which adds value to top line without causing much affect on the cost. Evaluation is continuous process and we keep this to find ways to drive higher revenue, LTV’s which creates brand acceptance and drives higher repeat which will help in reaching greater heights,” said Aakash Anand, founder and CEO of Idam House Of Brands.