Dear Brands, please leave @WhatsApp alone and don’t spam potential customers by your constant messages. SMS is dead because of you. Don’t kill WhatsApp also please,” tweeted a WhatsApp user. “Just because I bought something doesn’t mean you got a right to spam me left right and centre,” he wrote in another tweet along with a snapshot of the contacts he had blocked on WhatsApp, which included brands such as Chaayos, Lenskart, Taj Hotels and Tata Neu.
Unsolicited WhatsApp messages from brands with a green checkmark against their names, pushing products and deals, are becoming increasingly common by the day. At times, these are from businesses users do not remember giving an assent to, or even having interacted with. Blocking and reporting are some options, but the problem of spamming on WhatsApp by businesses continues.
The users’ exasperation is justified. What was meant to be an intimate space is increasingly turning into a virtual shopping complex, similar to what SMS and email look like now. As per last year’s survey by LocalCircles, 95% of WhatsApp users surveyed confirmed getting spam messages. Of more than 11,000 responses from Indians, 44% said they get one to three such messages on WhatsApp daily, 29% get four to seven, while 22% get a whopping eight or more such texts daily.
It all started with the launch of WhatsApp Business in India in 2018. It allows businesses to directly connect with consumers over WhatsApp. And since then, it seems, it has become brands’ favourite.
“We tied up with WhatsApp Business during the pandemic to achieve the central vision of simplifying customer experiences and leverage this association for flyers to book their flights in a hassle-free manner, especially the ones who are on the move and cannot spare a lot of time in comparing flight ticket pricing across platforms. We also wanted to resolve their flight-related queries in a quick, easy and smooth manner,” said Rikant Pittie, co-founder of digital travel agency EaseMyTrip. “Now, when customers send a message to our WhatsApp bot, we address their issues, provide them a seamless experience to make their bookings and even notify them about increase or drop in the flight ticket fares as per their searches through WhatsApp alerts. We feel this was one of the greatest decisions we made,” he added.
With close to 500 million users, India is WhatsApp’s biggest market. Not just that, messages on WhatsApp have an open rate of over 90% within the first hour of receiving the message, as per Verloop. This makes the platform lucrative to businesses looking for newer avenues to push business, which is reflected in the numbers as the company claims that its WhatsApp Business app has about 50 million users globally, with 15 million in India itself, media houses reported, quoting Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Facebook, now Meta, bought the messaging platforms in 2014 for $16 billion.
In a bid to generate revenue for such an investment, it appears there will be a further push in the WhatsApp Business vertical. During the company’s earnings conference call last year, Zuckerberg called business messaging a “major monetisation opportunity”. He further termed it as one of the three primary areas the company will focus its investment this year, as per media reports.
It appears crucial for the company, whose core business Facebook is witnessing plateauing in user numbers and a fall in revenue due to the drying up of advertising revenue. Massive investments in its ambitious metaverse projects, too, need to be factored in.
Interestingly, the innovation in its business vertical is happening at a faster pace than realised. Not just restricting to allow businesses to send personalised texts, the company last year tied up with Jiomart. It allows the online grocery store’s users an end-to-end shopping experience on WhatsApp, allowing them to browse Jiomart’s products, adding to cart, and purchasing — everything on WhatsApp. Notably, Meta is an investor in Jio Platforms.
No matter how lucrative it is for WhatsApp and businesses, spamming is an issue.
“I feel WhatsApp spamming is a serious issue. The incidents have been increasing over the period of time,” said EaseMyTrip’s Pittie. “Having said this, I am sure that the government as well as WhatsApp are trying their best to deal with this challenge. Trai, along with telcos and WhatsApp, will hopefully come up with a solution soon. Meanwhile, to handle this situation at an individual level, I urge people not to open suspicious links or messages, report spammers, and even block them if necessary,” he added.
Handling spamming might turn out to be crucial. It will be interesting to see if WhatsApp ends up like SMS or morphs into a Chinese giant WeChat-like platform.