Over-the-top chat platform WhatsApp has launched a pilot scheme that will enable businesses to create verified accounts that let them communicate directly with users, and may even be considering a dedicated app for small-to-medium businesses.
WhatsApp was acquired over three years ago by Facebook for $19bn (£14.7bn). At the time, Mark Zuckerberg stated that he wasn't interested in monetising WhatsApp until it passed the 1bn monthly active users threshold, but the platform hit that target back in February 2016, and in fact just over a month ago, the firm reported that it was now seeing 1bn active users every day.
With such a large, engaged user base, the question of monetisation has been hanging over WhatsApp for a while, and it appears as though Facebook may finally be making a move.
Details are still scarce, but a new entry in WhatsApp's frequently asked questions has revealed that a small number of businesses are currently part of a pilot program enabling them to verify their accounts. Users will be alerted by a WhatsApp notification in the chat if a business starts talking to them, and can block businesses as they would any other user.
While no further details have been officially revealed by WhatsApp, WaBetaInfo has published a post suggesting that the scheme will enable participants to set business hours and create automated responses, and that a distinct version of WhatsApp will be available for business users. In a separate post, Business Insider found a job listing for WhatsApp seeking a technical specialist who could specifically cater to the firm's business offering.
In Facebook's most recent earnings call, Zuckerberg also hinted towards a monetisation strategy that would focus on enterprise messaging across Facebook's various services.
"We're also working to build a business ecosystem around Messenger and WhatsApp," said Zuckerberg. "Messenger and WhatsApp both have large communitiies, and they're growing quickly, with 1bn people now using WhatsApp daily. It is still early on the monetisation side here."