With over two billion users worldwide, WhatsApp is widely seen as one of the best messaging services, and with good reason: it's encrypted, quick, simple, and ad-free.
But parent company Meta needs to make sure the service continues to make money, and has been exploring various avenues for some time, especially with its vast business user base.
In a blog post (opens in new tab), WhatsApp outlined several new features aimed squarely at businesses, spearheaded by the WhatsApp Cloud API, which has been in beta testing since last year.
"Today we’re taking a significant step in making WhatsApp available for any business of any size across the world by offering free, secure cloud hosting services provided by Meta," the company says.
"With this new API, we’ve cut down start-up time from months to minutes so businesses and developers can quickly and easily access our service, build directly on top of WhatsApp to further customize their experience and increase the speed at which they can respond to their customers."
In essence, the tool is a cloud-based version of the WhatsApp Business API. The goal is to make WhatsApp a fundamental part of the tech stack for businesses, eventually resulting in paying customers that – crucially – aren't end users. It makes a lot of sense, especially as WhatsApp has always been ad-free.
WhatsApp is explicitly seeking smaller businesses with the cloud-based API, after seeing success attracting larger enterprises with the fully-fledged Business API. Because Meta will be hosting everything, there are no additional server costs or hassle.
The future of messaging
With many WhatsApp alternatives on its tail, the messaging service needs to stay fresh and generate revenue without alienating its user base.
At WhatsApp's Conversations event, Mark Zuckerberg outlined the promise behind this strategy for WhatsApp.
"The best business experiences meet people where they are," he said (opens in new tab). "Already more than 1 billion users connect with a business account across our messaging services every week. They’re reaching out for help, to find products and services, and to buy anything from big-ticket items to everyday goods."
"And today, I am excited to announce that we’re opening WhatsApp to any business of any size around the world with WhatsApp Cloud API."
It's a solid pitch and one that is likely to work. WhatsApp has already signed up some huge names for its Business API, including Vodafone and BMW.
Being able to quickly and conveniently message customers where they already are is a big win – and something that Zendesk and other customer support tools should be wary of.