SMS or WhatsApp Business, which one do I need in my business?

What you should know about WhatsApp Business

In February 2020, WhatsApp had 2 billion active users worldwide. In Germany, almost 58 million people use the messenger every day. At first glance, these figures are impressive and make the hearts of  marketers beat faster. It is hardly surprising that companies used WhatsApp in the past to send newsletters or offers. But WhatsApp put a stop to this when the terms of use were amended in December 2019. Previously a legal grey are, sending newsletters has been officially banned since then. Of course, the Facebook subsidiary does not leave the potential untapped: WhatsApp Business has been available to companies since 2018. But what exactly is WhatsApp Business and what are the advantages and disadvantages of the service?

What is WhatsApp Business?

In short, WhatsApp Business is an application that allows companies to communicate with their customers via WhatsApp.

There are two different ways you can use WhatsApp Business. Small companies with up to five employees can (theoretically) use the free app*. If you want to connect the messages to your own CRM system, which is indispensable for most larger companies, the paid API (“Whatsapp Business Solution”) must be connected. Let’s take a closer look at the two possibilities.

*Caution: The WhatsApp Business App is not GDPR compliant!

The App – “WhatsApp Business”

Allow us to be very frank here: The freely available WhatsApp Business App is unlikely to be a viable solution for most companies in the EU. WhatsApp advertises that company profiles, quick responses, labels, catalogues and automated messages (welcome message and out-of-office message) are available in the business app. Unfortunately, even the most beautiful functions are worthless if you cannot use them properly. And this is exactly where the WhatsApp Business App fails. To be more precise, it fails even before you can get to those handy functions.

Unfortunately, it is not really possible to use the app in Germany in conformity with data protection laws. The problem: WhatsApp accesses the phone’s contact book and uploads all numbers to its servers to find out if the contact is using the app. This is actually not allowed in Germany, under data protection law, if the owners of the numbers have not agreed in advance. If certain precautions are taken, it is possible to avoid this unwanted upload, but these actions are always associated with additional work and, in case of doubt, may not be legally secure.

Moreover, synchronizing contacts is not the only data protection problem. Whatsapp does provide business customers with an agreement on commissioned data processing, but it does not meet the requirements of the GDPR. Among other things, WhatsApp forwards data to Facebook. However, processing by third parties must serve a separately mentioned purpose in order to be permissible. This problem cannot be solved on the part of your company.

The API – “WhatsApp Business Solution”

The API version of WhatsApp Business can be used for two different purposes: As a support channel for customers (“Customer Care Chat”) or for sending “Notifications”. If a customer contacts your company through WhatsApp, you have 24 hours to respond. After that, you can only reply using a template defined by Whatsapp – and you have to pay for it. These templates are also your only way to contact the customer on your own, via “Notifications”. This is how WhatsApp tries to prevent spam. If you want to use your own template, it must first be approved by WhatsApp (which, in the end, means by Facebook).

However, getting to this point in the first place is quite complex. First, you have to apply for access to the API, addressed to Facebook, then the whole thing must be approved and only then the API can be connected. If you do not have this option, you will have to use a messaging solution provider who is an intermediate step between you and WhatsApp. Of course this also means that you’ll pay more.

WhatsApp Business (Solution) or SMS?

We have to ask this question: Which is more worthwhile, Business SMS or Whatsapp Business? Even though this question has to be answered individually for each company, there are some key points that you should keep in mind when making your decision.

Reachability

WhatsApp advertises that they can reach two billion people in the world. Of course, SMS can easily keep up with that. They can potentially reach every person in the world with a mobile phone. In 2018 that meant reaching already more than 7.5 billion people. However, the argument of potential reachability is rather weak (unfortunately). This is because you cannot send messages to that number of users “just like that”. Therefore, further considerations are more important.

Consent

Just to be clear, you should always make sure that you have consent when you, as a company, contact customers. Regardless of whether you send SMS or use a messenger. However, SMS make it easier for you to communicate appropriately, because you decide which message you send to which customer and when. This is not always the case with WhatsApp Business (Solution). You can also send SMS via a gateway that is operated in the EU and offers a valid agreement on commissioned data processing . These circumstances create a higher level of trust, because you and your customers are safe, right from the start. This will certainly make giving consent a lot easier.

Media

Conversational marketing, i.e. a marketing conversation between a company and its customers, is said to have enormous future potential. But you do not need WhatsApp for that. There are numerous alternatives and with an inbound number you can also stay in contact with your customers via SMS. Without time limits or predefined templates. Sure, pictures cannot be sent in SMS, but links can. A great landing page will convince your customer in his customer journey anyway rather than a single picture. In the end, the experience the customer has in the conversation is always more important than the channel through which it takes place.

WhatsApp Business: A complicated risk that you may or may not take

As you can see, WhatsApp Business is as privacy-conscious as its data-hungry mother, Facebook. Nevertheless, it is of course ultimately up to you to decide which type of mobile customer communication you choose. While we do not think it makes sense for anyone to use the WhatsApp Business app, the Business API can certainly work, depending on your requirements. However, for flexible, secure and consistent communication, SMS is still the better choice.

Best regards
Your sms77 team
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