When Facebook bought WhatsApp for 19 billion dollars almost ten years ago, Mark Zuckerberg made a promise: the Facebook boss said he would not often interfere with the messaging application so as not to spoil a good thing.
Mr. Zuckerberg stuck with that philosophy as WhatsApp amassed more than two billion users worldwide — until 2019, when he began tapping into the app’s growth and business potential.
Today, WhatsApp has become increasingly crucial to Meta, the company that owns Facebook, Instagram and other apps. According to the company’s research, more than half of Americans ages 18 to 35 with cell phones have installed WhatsApp, making it one of Meta’s fastest-growing services in its largest market. mature. Advertisements on WhatsApp and its sister messaging service, Messenger, are also growing so fast that they could hit $10 billion in revenue this year, the company recently announced.
“If you envision what the private social platform of the future will be, starting from the ground up, I think it would essentially look like WhatsApp,” Mr. Zuckerberg, 39, said in a recent interview.
WhatsApp’s momentum is a reminder that Meta remains first and foremost a company powered by its family of social apps. Even though Mr. Zuckerberg has spent billions of dollars in recent years on his forward-looking vision the immersive digital world of the metaverse and on artificial intelligence, applications like WhatsApp attract new users and new revenue. This makes it one of the keys to his company’s future, allowing Meta to explore expensive, experimental and unproven products.
WhatsApp has also become the backbone of Meta’s business in what Mr. Zuckerberg said was “a year of efficiency.” After global economic uncertainty caused an advertising slowdown last year, Meta cut nearly a third of its workforce. It remains dependent on its core applications to generate steady sales growth and attract Wall Street.
In the interview, Mr. Zuckerberg presented WhatsApp as the “next chapter” for his company. The messaging app could become the cornerstone of business messaging, he said, as well as a primary chat app.
“Now that everyone has a cell phone and is producing content and messages all day long, I think you can do something much better and more intimate than just a feed of all your friends,” a- he declared.
Ten years ago, WhatsApp was a very different app – by design. Jan Koum And Brian Actontwo engineers who worked together at Yahoo, created WhatsApp as a fast, free and secure way to exchange messages with friends and family.
It is important to note that WhatsApp used a data connection instead of SMS messages from mobile operators, which often cost money. The service also did not store user messages on its servers. And it didn’t have the features of other apps, like iMessage, that let it work quickly and easily, even on slow data connections.
WhatsApp quickly took off, with hundreds of millions of people around the world downloading it in just a few years. That caught the attention of Mr. Zuckerberg, who bought WhatsApp in 2014 after receiving offers from Google and Chinese Internet company Tencent, two people familiar with the matter said.
Mr. Zuckerberg initially left most decisions about WhatsApp to its founders, who stayed after Facebook bought the app. Mr Koum and Mr Acton bristled at talk of money-making and publicity, and prioritized the safety and security of the courier service. In April 2016, WhatsApp rolled out end-to-end encryption, which prevents messages from being intercepted or viewed by parties outside the conversation.
“It felt like Facebook had been keeping WhatsApp in its pocket for a long time, as some kind of ‘green’ monetization opportunity,” said Eric Seufert, an independent mobile analyst who tracks Meta. “For them, it almost got over value than this unknown quantity, where they often said, “Who knows how big the company might be?”
But in 2019, Mr. Zuckerberg was champing at the bit assert more control on his company’s applications, tie them together so that they share data and technology. This led to the departure of WhatsApp founders and other employees. Mr. Acton joined a rival company, Signal; Mr. Koum is now focusing on philanthropy and buy high-end air-cooled Porsches. Some former WhatsApp executives later accused Mr. Zuckerberg of break the promises he made regarding privacy when he bought the company.
Mr. Zuckerberg has since grown WhatsApp into a more comprehensive messaging service and business. WhatsApp has added more features, from simple emoji reactions and forwarding messages to disappearing messages and supporting the app on other devices, like Macs and Windows desktops.
For most of its existence, WhatsApp has been more popular with users outside the United States. But with the new features, more Americans started trying the app. In the United States, growth was the fastest among young people in Miami, New York, Los Angeles and Seattle, according to the company’s studies. A Snapchat-like feature that lets users post temporary text, photo and video updates, called Status, has become the most used Stories product in the world, Meta said.
WhatsApp has also started offering paid tools and custom apps for businesses that wanted to use the platform to communicate with consumers. Chevrolet, Lenovo, Samsung and L’Oréal now use some of these tools, and WhatsApp has established sales and advertising partnerships in Latin America and India with companies such as Amazon and Uber.
In 2017, WhatsApp introduced click-to-message advertising, an advertising format that businesses can purchase to place in a Facebook feed. When users click on the ad on Facebook, it connects them to a brand’s WhatsApp account, where they can speak with customer service representatives or take an action like booking a flight or purchasing products. Ads have become Meta’s fastest-growing ad format, the company said.
Nissan has spent the last year creating chatbots on WhatsApp that can help the automaker speak with its customers in Brazil and direct them to a local car dealership. Between 30 and 40 percent of Nissan’s new sales in Brazil now come through WhatsApp, the automaker said, and the service has reduced its response time to customers from an average of 30 minutes to seconds.
“You are not intrusive because you are ready to help customers at their own pace,” Mauricio Greco, marketing director of Nissan Brazil, said in an interview. “It’s about giving our salespeople the tools they need, because they really want to sell. »
Nikila Srinivasan, Meta’s vice president of product management, said the company is also building out its payments infrastructure and working with companies in India, Brazil and Singapore to let people pay for purchases directly in WhatsApp. More than 200 million businesses use WhatsApp’s business apps, she said.
Still, WhatsApp is grappling with competitors and regulatory hurdles. Its biggest rival is iMessage, Apple’s native messaging app, installed on all iPhones and Macs. It’s also battling smaller but highly regarded newcomers like Signal and Telegram, which are particularly popular in Europe.
In Europe, WhatsApp could be forced to integrate with rival messaging services as part of the requirements of a new law, the Digital Markets Act, Seufert said. The company said it had started the difficult technical work to ensure that WhatsApp users can send messages to competing apps in the region.
Some regulators have also opposed encryption, a key feature of WhatsApp and iMessage, saying it makes it harder for authorities to monitor or arrest criminals.
Will Cathcart, the boss of WhatsApp, has defended WhatsApp’s privacy controls and said he would fight “tooth and nail” against any country that wanted to weaken its encryption.
One of the signs of WhatsApp’s evolution is the Channels feature, unveiled in September. The channels allow people to follow status updates from influencers like Bad Bunny, the musician who dropped a WhatsApp reference in his track “Moscow Mule» last year, without disclosing their phone number or contact details. WhatsApp now has more than 225 channels, including one for the New York Times, which each have more than a million followers.
The aim is to make WhatsApp a household name, whether for shopping, chatting or staying up to date with news and events, Mr Cathcart said.
“The conversation has gone from ‘WhatsApp is the app I use outside the U.S. when I travel,’” he said. “It’s becoming more and more common.”