The evolution of WhatsApp: From social to business

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An interesting feature is that if you have separate business and personal phone numbers, you can have both WhatsApp Business and Whatsapp Messenger installed on the same phone, and register them with different numbers.

Aurra Kawanzaruwa
Imagine if you could set auto-replies for all new customers and potential clients on WhatsApp. Or label your chats according to payment status. Or even set an automatic “away” message when someone contacts you for work outside of business hours. Well, WhatsApp has launched a platform specifically designed for business that can do just that.

WhatsApp Business is an Android app which is free to download, and was built with the small business owner in mind. With the app, businesses can interact with customers easily by using tools to automate, sort, and quickly respond to messages.

The application was first launched on the 19th of January this year in the UK, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico and the US. It only became available for download in Zimbabwe and other parts of Africa on Wednesday the 31st.

The company has not yet released any information on when the app will be available on IOS. However, as it seems that the application is designed for emerging markets, it makes sense why the company might launch the app on Android first.

According to research, as of December last year, Android still has almost half of Africa’s market share at 49,2 percent, compared to IOS’ 4,3 percent share of the African market. In Zimbabwe alone, 76,2 percent of the country uses Android as their primary operating system, whilst only 3,3 percent use Apple’s IOS.

While the launch of this app may seem like a minor development in the larger scheme of things, this is actually rather significant for a country that owes half its data traffic to WhatsApp usage and that is also on a drive to integrate its massive informal sector into an all-inclusive economy.

Over the last two years, WhatsApp, has stood out as one of the fastest growing media platforms in Africa. For many people, WhatsApp is their primary social media platform and means of communication, not Facebook, which owns the messaging app.

The new app’s features include business profile, messaging tools such as quick replies, greeting messages and away messages, metrics and a verified business account listing.

“Our new app will make it easier for companies to connect with customers, and more convenient for our 1.3 billion users to chat with businesses that matter to them,” WhatsApp says.

Already, over 1 million users have installed the app. An interesting feature is that if you have separate business and personal phone numbers, you can have both WhatsApp Business and Whatsapp Messenger installed on the same phone, and register them with different numbers. The app also allows you to use a landline (or fixed) phone number and your customers can message you on that number.

The application is not fall-off-your-chair incredible, but it’s certainly a smart move from WhatsApp which seems to be listening to its users, although the company has remained uncommunicative about its market opportunity in Africa — there are no publicly available data points on its market share or usage for Africa as a whole, much less individual countries.

Nevertheless, this small adjustment in social media and tech is a welcome development and, quite honestly, to be expected in this 4th industrial revolution where social and business communication is expected to change rapidly in the months and years to come.

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