Why non-profits are rushing to messaging

This podcast is based on a post written for 101fundraising.org. I’m presenting at the Resource Alliance virtual conference June 12th. The talk is about how non-profits use messaging for supporter acquisition and fundraising, and the ideas in this post and podcast set the stage for the conversation.

If this topic is interesting, the conference is free and you can register here.



How can organizations use WhatsApp?

WhatsApp provides some new tools for non-profits and business to communicate on using their app. Below is the podcast, and then a written overview of the basics as to how and where where an organization can start with WhatsApp.

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As messaging channels go, it can be pretty easy to get bored with SMS. It’s old and really is quite boring – it’s just text messaging. With more thought it becomes obvious that SMS is here to stay, but it’s still fun to imagine the possibilities on other messaging platforms. There are no other messaging platforms more interesting than WhatsApp.

The stats are outrageous. WhatsApp has 1.5 billion users, with 1 billion daily active users and more than 65 billion messages sent daily. A better description of the ubiquity is that in the messaging space I will often here, “In this country no one texts, the are all on WhatsApp.”

Users are definitely on the platform, but does that mean that a business or non-profit can find success on the platform?

The short answer is that we just don’t know. In a single sentence, I would describe WhatsApp messaging for business as appealing because of the numbers, but absolutely no one knows how it should work or has good use cases.

Let’s begin the discussion by outlining whats available in WhatsApp. On the WhatsApp, any organization is called a Business. So even though non-profits and government agencies do a lot of messaging, we’ll refer to all organizations as “Business” moving forward.

The central place for a business on WhatsApp is their Business Profile. No matter what direction your organization chooses to go with WhatsApp, setting up a Business Profile is the first step. The Business Profile is the organization’s page on WhatsApp and this profile allows users to find the business without knowing the phone number. So setting up a Business Profile makes the business searchable/findable in the WhatsApp directory.

The WhatsApp platform has different offerings for SMBs and large enterprise businesses. If the organization is small or medium, WhatsApp provides Business App. This app has special tools for business like quick replies and labels for people messaging in. With the Business App everything is still manual and the idea seems to be that customers can WhatsApp the store instead of calling the store.

Larger businesses can connect to the WhatsApp Business API. The idea with the API is to build automated conversations and potentially connect those conversations to customer service or CRM platforms. This API idea is similar to whats available with Facebook Messenger or SMS. Obviously, this is the more scalable approach.

The line that WhatsApp seems to draw between SMB and enterprise – the Business App and the API – is half a million messages per month. To frame it another way, to get access to the API an organization needs to send at least a half million messages per month. That’s a lot of messages! Especially on a platform that’s new, with unclear opt-in rules and not many examples of how to build a list.

The last important aspect to review is how WhatsApp deals with subscription messaging. In one respect, WhatsApp subscriptions use the 24+1 rule, similar to Facebook Messenger. In every situation, the user needs to message in first. When a user messages in, the business can send a message back. In fact, the business has 24 hours to send the user any message they like. Any and every incoming message from the user opens this 24 hour window for the business to send a message. Let’s call this a “response message” which is how FB/WhatsApp refers to it I believe.

Outside of this 24 hour window an outgoing message is considered a “Subscription Message”. The idea is that the user must subscribe to receive these messages. 24+1 messaging policy means that the business has the 24 hour window and can send 1 subscription message outside of that 24 hour window. This is how both Messenger and WhatsApp Business API work.

WhatsApp has a unique mechanic to how the broadcast messages work. WhatsApp broadcasts use templates. In the API, instead of pushing the recipients and the message to send to the recipients, the business sending the message needs to add the message and save it as a template. Once the template is saved, the API call would then list the receipts and identify the template to send. This is fairly boring and a little technical, but it gives WhatsApp a spot to approve or decline the messages that a business is sending. This is different from Messenger where Facebook approves or declines the Pages that can send broadcasts, WhatsApp seems to be focused on the content of the broadcast instead.

All in all WhatsApp is an exciting new channel. If you need to talk to populations where the only way to do that is WhatsApp, it worth it to start exploring the channel. If WhatsApp is a nice-to-have for your organization, it probably makes sense to wait and see where everything goes.

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