Like it or not, Facebook plans on rolling out in-app ads for WhatsApp by Q1 2019. This was confirmed by Mark Zuckerberg during the Q3 2018 earnings call. As part of the Facebook Audience Network, the self-serve platform will pull data from social media data, conversations, uploads, sentiments, and location choices.
Blended with WhatsApp and Messenger data, Facebook’s targeting has been speculated to achieve higher forms of accuracy, with the spillover impact being a greater range of user mistrust.
In Singapore, Bharathi Ramavarjula, Deepesh Trivedi, and Gap Kim are dedicated to WhatsApp, working to replicate the ecosystem impact of WeChat by locking merchants, marketplaces, and payments partners in India and the Southeast Asia region. Facebook has made headway in growing its enterprise sales channel for WhatsApp, funneling commercial messaging solutions and has established a sizable user base for its ‘for business’ app.
Habibullah Khan, director of content at Penumbra, postulates that as a platform users go to by choice, Facebook will initially allow select advertisers to access daily active users (DAU) of WhatsApp, offering low ad volumes and a reasonable price.
“DAU should not be hit because users cannot simply transport their social graph to other platforms,” said Khan. “And even if they could there is no choice with critical mass. Whatsapp however was built on the promise of privacy and no advertising. Putting advertising on it does violate its core ethos and leave room for a challenge from a platform that doubles down on those original promises.”
Faisal Sheikh, director of MHL Global, foresees a decline in DAU if the ads are not phased out gradually over time, adding that it would be seen as more of an intrusion rather than as a privacy concern. Sumit Ramchandani, CCO at Lion & Lion, agrees and is optimistic that Facebook will apply lessons from monetizing the user feeds of Facebook and Instagram in ensuring negative DAU impact is minimized.
“We believe, that Facebook will adopt a test & learn approach by probably starting out with simple text ads on the top of the status bar or something, that are relatively unobtrusive as far as the CX goes,” said Ramchandani. “Done right, it could also drive higher relevancy leading to a positive impact on DAU. Relevancy and simplicity in execution would be the keys to succeed.”
Prantik Muzamdar, managing partner at HappyMarketer, agrees, adding that the use cases for the ad format could range from brand awareness to engagement to direct marketing to referral campaigns to customer service and hence could be become a critical weapon in the arsenal.
“From a user perspective, privacy could be a critical issue just like the backlash Google faced for it’s Google Sponsored Promotions (GSP) ads inside Gmail that would enable targeted ads based on the content & context of the emails – if that was deemed to be an infringement of privacy, targeting based on high frequency personal chats will likely be a bigger issue,” said Muzamdar.
Yuval Ben-Itzhak, CEO of Socialbakers, advises that marketers focus on making their communication relevant and timely to build engagement and retain customer attention on the platform, reiterating Ramchandani’s point and imploring advertisers to focus on winning with relevant and timely communication choices.
“It will be interesting to see which ad format performs best on the platform, once brands start to experiment with different ad types,” said Ben-Izhtak. “With an audience of over 1.5 billion users, WhatsApp definitely presents a significant opportunity for brands to have authentic conversations with their customers.