In recent times, WhatsApp is gaining a lot of negative publicity because of the fake news that is spread through it. The overall narrative from government agencies is trying to vilify WhatsApp and Facebook to take action against the perpetrators of fake news. They are complaining that the company is not doing enough to curb fake news.
In this e-mail, I want to focus on another aspect of WhatsApp. India has seen a large shift in communication patterns because of WhatsApp. Let’s zoom out and take a high-level view of WhatsApp.
At a high level
WhatsApp globally has about 1.5 billion monthly active users worldwide, of which about 400 million are in India. Let’s think about that number in depth. Experts estimate that India’s internet population was about 500 million at the end of 2018. 80% of that population uses WhatsApp every month. If you are an internet user in India, chances are high that you started using the Internet because of WhatsApp. Though there are competitors to WhatsApp that have some share of the market, it will be safe to say that you use WhatsApp for communication.
For a company like Facebook, this means that it has a very strong influence on how communication works in a country that is as diverse as India.
How did WhatsApp get there?
WhatsApp was launched in India in 2010. At the time, the market for text messaging was owned by phone carriers, who used to charge money for each message that was sent. WhatsApp came in, and said, “Hey, you don’t have to pay to send messages. You only need an internet connection.”
Another reason why WhatsApp grew so fast was how less data it needed to send messages. A stable 2G connection, whose prices had reduced by 2010, was good enough to communicate with your friends and family. In as little as ₹ 10, someone could send hundreds of messages. The founders of WhatsApp had made a sincere effort to make the app one of the lowest users of data, allowing it to work very well on slower connections.
The app was truly designed for emerging markets like India.
That was the hook a price-sensitive market like India needed. Primarily, the younger generation, which was looking for ways to save money on mobile phones, got hooked to using WhatsApp, and soon, India became WhatsApp’s biggest market.
Once people started using it, network effects kicked in. If your friend was on WhatsApp, you wanted to use WhatsApp. In fact, many people even switched to a new phone just because they could use WhatsApp.
This was how the WhatsApp story started, and in many ways, India’s internet explosion started as well. This brilliant article details the important years of WhatsApp’s journey.
So, what does that mean for WhatsApp
One thing that WhatsApp has done exceptionally well, despite its growth, is that it hasn’t lost its essence. There are a limited set of features when the company could spend millions of dollars on making new features to try and make it more attractive.
Because of this, WhatsApp still is looking for a clear-cut way to monetize itself. Currently, the product is free to use for users, and Facebook has not put in any ads on the product. There are talks of putting ads in WhatsApp or asking companies to pay for using WhatsApp to communicate with users. Facebook has a lot of options to monetize WhatsApp.
The most logical answer seems to be to ask companies to pay WhatsApp to send messages to their consumers. But, we’ll have to wait and watch to see how monetization on WhatsApp happens.
The WhatsApp revolution
Today, businesses like Meesho are being built completely on WhatsApp. Companies are recognizing of reaching out to customers on WhatsApp. Small businesses frequently conduct business solely through WhatsApp. Families and friends stay connected through WhatsApp, of course, offering ways to build micro-communities that can create opportunities for selling and buying.
This said, WhatsApp only has a bright future. What the e-mail revolution did in the nineties, WhatsApp has done in the past decade. For anyone looking to start a business, I’d encourage looking at WhatsApp as a mechanism to sell and grow.
This is just the start.
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Read my article about the YouTube revolution too!