Yash Bhatia and Pooja Yadav

Meta's WhatsApp Channels: The future of global brand messaging or Threads 2.0?

As Mark Zuckerberg's Meta launches ‘WhatsApp Channels’ in 150 countries, industry heads assess its impact on celebrities, brands and influencers.

Meta-owned platform WhatsApp is constantly pushing its boundaries, introducing new features at a brisk pace. From the introduction of community features in 2022  and culminating in the recent addition of a chat lock feature for enhanced privacy, WhatsApp appears poised to transcend beyond its messaging app origins.

The latest addition to its arsenal is 'WhatsApp Channels,' which has been rolled out globally, with Indian luminaries such as BCCI, Katrina Kaif, Diljit Dosanjh, Akshay Kumar, Vijay Deverakonda, and Neha Kakkar among the early adopters. WhatsApp Channels serves as a one-way communication tool, enabling private updates from various entities, including organisations, sports teams, brands, artists, and thought leaders.

This feature, initially launched in Colombia and Singapore in June 2023, is currently accessible exclusively to celebrities and notable personalities. 

WhatsApp stated in the official statement, that the users can find it under a new tab labelled 'Updates,' alongside the Status tab, facilitating easy access to channels they choose to follow. The company also offers recommendations based on regions and popularity while ensuring the privacy of user names and profile pictures from other followers and channel admins.

WhatsApp Channels maintains a one-month history of channel activity, after which it's automatically deleted. This unidirectional broadcasting tool supports text, photos, videos, stickers, and polls. Users can access channels through invitation links shared via chats, emails, or online posts, with the added option to react to messages using emojis. 

During the pandemic, WhatsApp emerged as a communication tool for brands, particularly D2C brands, owing to its widespread daily usage. Kantar Research reported that in India, 86% of adults message brands at least once a week, surpassing the global average of 66%. With the introduction of WhatsApp Channels, brands must reevaluate their communication strategies to harness its full potential.

In the Western world, Telegram channels have gained popularity for disseminating updates from prominent publishers like The Washington Post, Netflix, and TED Talks.

Meta's WhatsApp Channels: The future of global brand messaging or Threads 2.0?

WhatsApp's unique position

While WhatsApp Channels may seem similar to existing features on Telegram and Discord, its true potential lies in its massive user base. However, it faces the challenge of carving a niche in the crowded social media landscape, much like Threads' struggle to establish itself.

In India, users typically have specific purposes for different social media platforms—Facebook for exploring and sharing, Instagram and Snapchat for trends and photo uploads, Twitter and Reddit for threaded discussions, and WhatsApp for messaging. 

WhatsApp's transition into a social media platform may reshape the way content creators and influencers engage with their followers, enhancing long-term engagement.

The introduction of Channels heralds a shift in WhatsApp's identity, positioning it as a social media app rather than just an online messaging app. Content creators and influencers can leverage this functionality to foster closer connections with their followers and maintain regular, day-to-day updates, ultimately boosting long-term engagement.

afaqs! engaged in discussions with industry experts to gain insights into the trajectory of WhatsApp Channels and its potential impact on celebrities, brands, and influencers.

Rajni Daswani, director - digital marketing, SoCheers

WhatsApp's vast user base, primarily known for its chat feature, sets the stage for Channels to tap into substantial potential. Unlike Threads, which lacked expertise and aimed to emulate Twitter, WhatsApp's transition into this territory feels more natural and promising.

People have used this functionality in Telegram widely. WhatsApp will be a natural extension of it. I think it will work well, especially for influencers and celebrities. 

As for brands, it remains to be seen. Entertainment brands, with frequent updates, might find WhatsApp Channels more conducive, while FMCG brands may not benefit as much due to less frequent updates.

It's also worth noting that WhatsApp might face adoption challenges.

For brands, WhatsApp marketing will continue to stay in chats, while the Channels feature may serve as a one-way communication medium, contingent on the brand's specific agenda.

Shradha Agarwal, co-founder & CEO, Grapes

WhatsApp Channels has immense potential to be a strong tool for marketing on the platform. I believe that it will not tank like Threads, because it’s not a new entity for which people have to go to another app. 

WhatsApp has a history of building relevant features, and Channels is an extension of the same philosophy, especially coming on the heels of video notes. While WhatsApp marketing will still be leveraged for a personalised communication approach, the Channels feature introduces a shift. 

Considering this, brands will not lose the personal aspect of WhatsApp marketing, but will weigh quality vs. quantity and strike a favourable balance between the two. 

Manas Barpande, lead-social media, Dunzo 

WhatsApp Channels appear to be an interesting medium for brands and creators to stay in touch with their followers. For brands, it can become a game-changer to share business updates, limited-time deals, and new product features at a massive scale with a single message.

Yet, the challenge lies in managing information overload and privacy concerns. Users find WhatsApp to be an invasive medium due to high frequency of incoming brand messages, adding this feature could create more chaos in the customer’s WhatsApp account.

Jatin Sinha, head - digital transformation, Schbang

We can’t compare WhatsApp Channels with Threads as the former is the feature, whereas the latter is a separate application. Instead of making direct comparisons, it's more apt to view WhatsApp Channels as a departure from the crowded landscape into a niche platform. With its vast user base, it has the potential to connect with a wide range of demographics.

Brands can tailor their communication to their loyalists while WhatsApp Channel will empower customers to choose which brands they want to follow and receive updates and information from.

This not only addresses the issue of consent but also offers a unique advantage in the battle against the proliferation of fake news on WhatsApp. The ability to trace the source of messages enhances message authenticity in a world inundated with misinformation. While WhatsApp Channels cannot be monetised yet, brands and content creators can use the feature to build a strong community and foster deep engagement with their audience.

Gurpreet Singh, co-founder, One Digital Entertainment 

WhatsApp Channels holds a significant promise with this new feature considering its pervasive presence across devices and demographics. Meta leveraging its relationship with creators and celebrities spanning various genres and demographics has secured an advantageous starting position with the introduction of WhatsApp Channels.

Nowadays, brands behave like content studios on social platforms, which gives them the potential to engage a vast audience and cultivate loyal communities through this new feature. 

Content Creators, however, must discern between sheer followers and genuine community loyalists, as they both have different objectives. By leveraging WhatsApp, they can foster deeper community engagement.

Ahmed Aftab Naqvi, global CEO and co-founder, Gozoop

The level of intimacy that WhatsApp provides, coupled with its distinctive features, holds the potential to revolutionise the branding landscape. The onus now squarely rests on brands to effectively tap into this opportunity. 

However, the challenge lies in achieving a delicate equilibrium between meaningful communication and safeguarding user privacy. Success in this endeavour will determine the extent to which brands can leverage WhatsApp as a powerful tool for engagement while maintaining the trust and privacy of their user base.

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