Marketing via WhatsApp & Facebook Messenger


Every day 42 billion instant messages, 1.6 billion pictures and approximately 250 million videos are sent via WhatsApp (February 2016). Users have more than doubled since the social media giant Facebook bought the Instant Messenger WhatsApp for 19 billion US-Dollar (13.81 billion Euros) in February 2014 and over 1 billion people are now using WhatsApp worldwide. In Germany there are approximately 35 million users (June, 2016). And the figures continue to rise.


WhatsApp newsletters

With these impressive statistics, it hasn’t taken long for marketers to become interested in WhatsApp. Wouldn’t it be great if you could contact people directly via the popular Instant Messenger and confront them with your brand? With this being said, it isn’t surprising that by the end of 2015 some companies had already started to offer newsletter subscriptions on WhatsApp.

At first the procedure was basically the same as with newsletter registrations via email. The newsletter providers applied the so called Double-Opt-In procedure, which is obligatory in Germany. This two-step process starts with users actively subscribing to receive newsletters followed by them receiving an email with a confirmation link, which they have to click in order to verify again that they really want to receive newsletters going forward.

Only after this second confirmation are companies allowed to send out newsletters in Germany. Companies like the German TV station RTL, the German newspaper “Süddeutsche Zeitung” and the German Football Association have used WhatsApp to send newsletters. However, this procedure is questionable from a legal standpoint. In their General Terms and Conditions, WhatsApp prohibits any commercial solicitation of the Instant Messenger:

„[…]You agree not to collect or harvest any personally identifiable information, including phone number, from the Service, nor to use the communication systems provided by the Service for any commercial solicitation or spam purposes. You agree not to spam, or solicit for commercial purposes, any users of the Service.“

On top of that, Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, explicitly stated that there will be no advertising on WhatsApp. Consequently after a short period of time the mobile phone numbers of the newsletter providers were marked as spam and subsequently banned. Some of the banned companies referred to their WhatsApp newsletter campaigns as non-commercial by stating that they solely wanted to “provide information at zero costs” but in the end the decision whether “information at zero costs” will be classified as spam or not is a left to Facebook. There are some companies, like t3n for example, who are still providing their readers with newsletters via WhatsApp.


Here comes Facebook Messenger

It is more likely that Facebook will use their in-house Facebook Messenger (approximately 800 million monthly active users in April 2016) to deliver advertisements. In February 2016 a document was leaked to TechCrunch in which Facebook communicated to a couple of its biggest advertising partners that it will make advertising options available for Facebook Messenger starting as soon as the second quarter of 2016. Apparently we don’t have to fear being bombarded with a myriad of advertisements on Facebook Messenger any time soon though as it seems Facebook plans to only allow companies to get in touch with users who have had an interaction with the company beforehand.

At the moment it is still unclear exactly how the advertisement options for Facebook Messenger will materialise. It is unlikely just to be solely display ads, and perhaps a far more interesting aspect could be the more personalised method of retargeting. Companies could, for example, inform potential customers via Facebook Messenger if a product, which was viewed in the past but sold out at the time, is available again. Reactivation- as well as Cross- and Up-Selling campaigns via Facebook Messenger could also be a highly interesting marketing approach for companies. Up until now Facebook Messenger is almost entirely used as a customer support tool by companies (e.g. by the airline KLM). We conclude that Facebook Messenger has far more marketing potential for companies than WhatsApp has and are curious as to what the future holds.