WhatsApp Business is opening up for all businesses and developers with the new easier-to-use cloud-hosted version of its API, Meta announced Thursday. The messaging platform will also roll out premium features to the 50 million-odd users of its small business app, including the ability to create a vanity URL for customers to reach out.
“We have had the WhatsApp API available for larger businesses, but it’s been a complex product to get started with. You have to have someone implement the software for you, host it for you and maintain the software for you. And that’s a lot of complexity and burden to get started. The cloud-hosted version of the WhatsApp API removes all that complexity and you can get started in just a few minutes,” Matt Idema, vice-president, business messaging, Meta, said on a call from California.
Idema said the new platform will be something to graduate to “whether you are an individual developer, working on an entrepreneurial project of your own or a smaller company”. He said the new API means “partners can focus on building the tools and services that they want to deliver to customers on top of WhatsApp” and “we can take the installation, maintenance and hosting of the API off their plate”.
The custom URL option being rolled out to business users, Idema said, is “very similar to how you have a URL for your web page, or a name for your app”. He said along with this, small businesses will also get multi-device capability, allowing multiple phones to manage the same WhatsApp number. This is a feature that a lot of small businesses have been asking them for a long time, he added.
WhatsApp believes this is all part of a natural evolution and users want business to be part of their messaging experience. A lot of learning came from India, one of its biggest markets with over 400 million users. “Small business owners were already using WhatsApp, they were putting numbers up on their stores, they were asking customers to just message when they needed groceries,” he remembered, adding that then they hadn’t built the tools that made this conversation easy for businesses.
“It started with a belief that people wanted this because it’s what we were seeing in the usage of the app, and we have slowly introduced capabilities to make it possible. We think this is a natural part of what people want to do as a part of WhatsApp. And it’s especially during the pandemic, we saw that it’s been incredibly useful,” he explained.
But this has been done making sure people feel like they are in control. “If the conversation is one they no longer want to have, they can control that. We need to make sure we’re building systems to ensure that the experience of talking to a business remains high quality,” he said, also qualifying that business too don’t want to make the experience of messaging with them bad.
Most of the features are the result of what businesses were asking for and what WhatsApp saw they were using the services for. “I remember meeting with many of them in Mumbai and Delhi, and they would take us to their stores and show us how they have to hire an extra person just to answer all these WhatsApp messages. And most of the time, it’s the same question, or send me a picture of it, or what size it is,” Idema explained, about how they started to build tools to just make it easier for the business owner to respond to common questions.
Then came the next stage of businesses wanting “a profile that looks different from what a regular user of the consumer app can do”. This led to the introduction of business profiles followed by catalogues, which made it easy for businesses to upload their product pictures and tackle basic questions. “We have just continued to listen to especially what small businesses have been asking us for and adding those tools to the product. That’s part of the reason we are so excited about the premium offerings. Those are like power tools for businesses that really run on WhatsApp.” The custom URL feature will be a tool to promote their business on Facebook and Instagram with click-to-message ads, Idema explained.
The ability to make payments within WhatsApp will also be an important part of this. “We have spent so much time and energy making it possible to use payments in WhatsApp. You have a great conversation with a business, you decide you want to purchase the product, and you just want it to be easy. You just want to tap and pay digitally. And that is the promise of UPI. We are quite glad we invested in it and quite hopeful that by making that available for businesses as well, it will be really valuable for consumers.”