when Facebook bought WhatsApp For $19 billion nearly a decade ago, Mark Zuckerberg made a promise: The Facebook boss said he wouldn’t interfere too much with the messaging app so as not to mess with a good thing.
Mr. Zuckerberg stuck to this philosophy as WhatsApp amassed more than two billion users globally — until 2019, when he began to capitalize on the app’s growth and business potential.
Now WhatsApp is becoming increasingly important to Meta, the company that owns Facebook, Instagram and other apps. More than half of Americans ages 18 to 35 who own a mobile phone have installed WhatsApp, according to company studies, making it one of Meta’s fastest-growing services in its more mature market. Ads on Facebook and Instagram that drive users to WhatsApp and its sister messaging service, Messenger, are also growing so fast that their revenue could reach $10 billion this year, the company recently said.
“If you imagine what the private social platform will be like in the future, starting from scratch, I think it will basically look like WhatsApp,” Zuckerberg, 39, said in a recent interview.
WhatsApp’s momentum is a reminder that at its core, Meta is still a company supported by its family of social apps. Although Zuckerberg has spent billions of dollars in recent years on his futuristic vision of an immersive digital world and on artificial intelligence, apps like WhatsApp are bringing in new users and new revenue. This makes it one of the keys to his company’s future, enabling Mita to explore expensive, experimental, and unproven products.
WhatsApp has also become the backbone of Meta’s business in what Mr. Zuckerberg declared a “year of efficiency.” After global economic uncertainty last year caused advertising to decline, Meta cut nearly a third of its staff. It remains dependent on its core applications to deliver consistent sales growth and attract Wall Street.
In the interview, Mr. Zuckerberg described WhatsApp as the “next chapter” for his company. He said the messaging app could become the cornerstone of business messaging, in addition to the primary chat app.
“Now that everyone has cell phones and is basically producing content and messaging all day long, I think you can do something much better and more intimate than just feeding all your friends,” he said.
A decade ago, WhatsApp was a completely different app – by design. Jan Koum and Brian Acton, two engineers who worked together at Yahoo, built WhatsApp as a fast, free, and secure way to exchange messages with friends and family.
Most importantly, WhatsApp used a data connection instead of mobile carrier SMS, which often costs money. The service also did not store people’s messages on its servers. It didn’t have some of the features that other apps, like iMessage, offered, which allowed it to work quickly and easily even on slow data connections.
WhatsApp took off quickly, with hundreds of millions of people around the world downloading it within just a few years. That caught the attention of Zuckerberg, who acquired WhatsApp in 2014 after receiving overtures from Google and Chinese internet company Tencent, two people familiar with the matter said.
Initially, Zuckerberg left most of the decisions regarding WhatsApp to its founders, who remained in their positions after Facebook bought the app. Mr. Koum and Mr. Acton bristled at talk of money making and advertising, and prioritized safety and security in the messaging service. In April 2016, WhatsApp rolled out end-to-end encryption, which prevents messages from being intercepted or viewed by parties outside the conversation.
“I felt like Facebook had been keeping WhatsApp in its back pocket for a long time, as a kind of ‘green field’ monetization opportunity,” said Eric Seifert, an independent mobile analyst who follows Meta. “It was almost more valuable to them as this unknown quantity, that they would often say: ‘Who knows how big the work could be?'”
But by 2019, Zuckerberg was seeking to assert more control over his company’s apps, linking them together so they could share data and technology. This led to the departure of WhatsApp founders and other employees. Mr. Acton joined a rival company, Signal; Mr. Kom is now focusing on… Charity Buying high-end, air-cooled Porsche cars. Some former WhatsApp executives later accused Mr. Zuckerberg of breaking promises he made regarding privacy when he bought the company.
Mr. Zuckerberg has since turned WhatsApp into a more integrated messaging and business service. WhatsApp has added more features, from simple emoji interactions and message forwarding to disappearing messages and support for the app across other devices, such as Mac and Windows desktops.
For most of its life, WhatsApp was more popular among users outside the United States. But with the new features, more Americans are starting to try the app. In the United States, it grew fastest among young people in Miami, New York, Los Angeles and Seattle, according to company studies. The Snapchat-like feature that allows users to post temporary text, photo and video updates, called status, has become the most widely used Stories product in the world, Mita said.
WhatsApp has also started offering Paid tools and custom apps For businesses that wanted to use the platform to communicate with consumers. Chevrolet, Lenovo, Samsung, and L’Oreal are now using some of these tools, and WhatsApp has established commercial and advertising partnerships in Latin America and India with companies like Amazon and Uber.
In 2017, WhatsApp introduced “Click to Message” advertising, an ad format that businesses can purchase to place within their Facebook feed. When users click on the ad on Facebook, it connects them to the brand’s WhatsApp account, where they can talk with customer service representatives or take an action like booking a flight or purchasing merchandise. Ads have become Meta’s fastest-growing ad format, the company said.
Nissan spent the past year creating WhatsApp chatbots that could help the automaker talk to its customers in Brazil and direct them to a local car dealership. The car company said that between 30 and 40 percent of new Nissan sales in Brazil now come through WhatsApp, and the service has reduced its response time to customers to a few seconds instead of 30 minutes on average.
“You don’t get involved because you’re ready to help customers at their own pace,” Mauricio Greco, Nissan Brazil’s marketing director, said in an interview. “It’s about giving our salespeople the tools they need, because they really want to sell.”
Nikhil Srinivasan, Meta’s vice president of product management, said the company is also building its own payments infrastructure and working with companies in India, Brazil and Singapore to allow people to pay for purchases directly within WhatsApp. She said that more than 200 million companies use WhatsApp professional business applications.
However, WhatsApp still faces competitors and regulatory hurdles. Its biggest competitor is iMessage, Apple’s native messaging app, which is installed on every iPhone and Mac. It’s also taking on smaller but much-loved startups like Signal and Telegram, which are particularly popular in Europe.
In Europe, WhatsApp may have to integrate with competing messaging services as part of requirements under a new law, the Digital Markets Act, Seifert said. The company said it has The difficult technical work began To ensure that WhatsApp users can send messages to competing apps in the region.
Some regulators have also opposed encryption, a key feature of WhatsApp and iMessage, saying it makes it difficult for authorities to monitor or catch criminals.
Will Cathcart, head of WhatsApp, defended WhatsApp’s privacy controls and said he would fight tooth and nail against any country that wanted to weaken its encryption.
One sign of how much WhatsApp has evolved is Channels, a feature that was unveiled in September. Channels allow people to follow status updates from influencers like Bad Bunny, the musician who dropped a WhatsApp reference in his song “Moscow muleLast year, without revealing their phone number or contact information. WhatsApp now has more than 225 channels, including a New York Times channel, each with more than a million followers.
The goal is to make WhatsApp a household name, whether it’s for shopping, chatting or staying updated on news and events, Cathcart said.
“The conversation has moved from ‘WhatsApp is the app I use outside the US when I travel.’ “It has become significantly more widespread,” he said.
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