Ananya Pathak
Points of View

As users ponder shifting to Signal, Telegram, what can WhatsApp do to restore trust?

There’s anecdotal evidence of a possible mass exodus from WhatsApp to other messaging apps. What should WhatsApp do? And what role will advertising play?

User privacy became the talk of the town again after Facebook-owned WhatsApp released its new policy update earlier this month. There was confusion after WhatsApp users started receiving pop-up notifications to either accept or completely decline the brand’s updated privacy policy by February 8, 2021. As per the terms, declining the update would result in the suspension of the user’s account.

The mention of Facebook in the policy led to fear among the users that accepting the terms would allow WhatsApp to share their personal data with the app’s parent company.

The panic and confusion resulted in many users uninstalling WhatsApp and moving to its rivals, like Signal and Telegram. According to the mobile app analytics firm Sensor Tower, Signal saw 17.8 million downloads between January 5 and January 12, up from just 285,000 in the previous week. Telegram saw 15.7 million downloads during the same period, over twice the 7.6 million downloads it saw in the week before.

Ever since the social media backlash started, WhatsApp has been actively engaged in addressing the concerns of its users. It released a full front page ad in national daily The Hindu stating, ‘WhatsApp protects and respects your privacy’. The ad tries to encapsulate what the new policy does and does not do.

As users ponder shifting to Signal, Telegram, what can WhatsApp do to restore trust?

In a blog post, WhatsApp answered some questions. “… the policy update does not affect the privacy of your messages with friends or family in any way. The changes are related to optional business features on WhatsApp, and provides further transparency about how we collect and use data,” it read.

As users ponder shifting to Signal, Telegram, what can WhatsApp do to restore trust?

Over the weekend, WhatsApp also put out a series of ‘statuses’ reaffirming, “We are committed to your privacy”. WhatsApp has, for now, even pushed the update by three months (till May 15).

As users ponder shifting to Signal, Telegram, what can WhatsApp do to restore trust?
As users ponder shifting to Signal, Telegram, what can WhatsApp do to restore trust?
As users ponder shifting to Signal, Telegram, what can WhatsApp do to restore trust?

So, is the messaging working? We reached out to creative directors from various agencies to find out what their thoughts are and to what extent, according to them, can advertising solve WhatsApp’s misery?

Edited excerpts:

Vinesh Nandikol, head – digital, FCB Ulka Mumbai

Personal data is the biggest asset one owns in the Internet world. The problem with WhatsApp is not related to a product glitch. It is the relationship damage in one of its biggest customer database, where there is a lot at stake.

Typically, in such scenarios, it is important for the brands to come out clean and talk about how they add value to their customers and their information usage while they continue to use the platform. At this point, there is a lot of fear in a WhatsApp user’s mind and the brands needs to nip it in the bud with messaging that negates the wrong information strongly.

Vinesh Nandikol
Vinesh Nandikol

The brand needs to clear the air and attack the core problem that helps convert hatred into a bigger brand love. This could be the right comeback, with the right message. Brands which have done this in the past, have emerged stronger and still continue to exist.

What should the core messaging be? For many years, WhatsApp has enjoyed a great amount of brand trust. It not only connected people, but also became the biggest platform that’s used to share the deepest form of personal information...

It’s important to reinforce that trust once again. And that can’t be done through mere clarifications on technicalities and guidelines. By taking such a stand, one is just making the situation worse. At this time, one has got to eradicate that fear in every possible way and do whatever it takes to bring back positivity and peace of mind while using the app.

WhatsApp users in India have always looked at it as a family platform, to share and care. Maybe, the messaging should focus on how its users can still share (things) happily, without fear…

Privacy was a major concern in the US during the COVID pandemic. Apple came out with a campaign called ‘Privacy – that’s iPhone’. It reinstated how an iPhone gives the consumer the control of information and privacy. Empowered connected consumers decide the fate of brands today. In the age of scrolling, sharing and swiping, any wrong move by a brand can cause an irreparable damage.

In this connected world, consumers love brands which are honest and are truly customer-centric. The right approach in advertising can be a catalyst to infuse the brand love back in the platform, which it has been enjoying over the years.

Vishnu Rao – group creative manager, Schbang Bangalore
There is always a backlash, or suspicions, associated with big brands. Coke and Maggi, to name a couple, also dealt with their own bad press, in terms of unhealthy additions to their product offerings.

Vishnu Rao
Vishnu Rao

In such circumstances, the instant reaction is to reassure the people and let them know that the product is perfectly safe. Did that work in the past? To some extent. Would it work today, when a significant amount of people truly believe in the adage, ‘There is no smoke without a fire?’ Maybe not

WhatsApp did what it had to. It encouraged people to not believe the rumours, go through the policy, and make their own informed decisions. It is consistent with its overall theme of communication on being careful about what you spread and take responsibility for the information that it shares on the platform.

It makes sense for WhatsApp to continue to spread that message. Maybe, even hark back to its earlier post about being careful about fake news, and continue to encourage free thought and conversation.

Aalap Desai, national creative director, mcgarrybowen India

Honestly, the time for WhatsApp to invest in the right messaging was yesterday. It has been putting out print ads and other communication, but it’s all fragmented. What is needed is a focused moment marketing campaign mixed with ingenious PR. This combination is the only thing that can help WhatsApp to sail through the attrition right now.

WhatsApp and a confused perception are a large part of the reason why it (WhatsApp) is where it is now. It needs PR to fix that perception. It needs its ‘Abki baar Modi Sarkar’.

Aalap Desai
Aalap Desai

If I were to make the current crisis campaign, the core messaging would be the long-term relationship and the familiarity we have with the platform. It is so simple that even the elderly are able to use it. This legacy should be the core of WhatsApp messaging everywhere.

Ricardo Vaz, associate creative director, Enormous Brands

Facebook, in general, is getting a lot of heat for being so bullish in its data collection. Its earlier anti-Apple campaign struggled to make an emotional point, and worked brilliantly as an endorsement to Apple’s privacy.

Ricardo Vaz
Ricardo Vaz

Today’s consumer can see through a well-constructed piece of messaging. No matter how convincing they (the brands) try and make it, people can see the ulterior motive behind it. The only solution is actually making changes that are mindful of people’s privacy, and then advertising them.