Private following eliminates brand message fatigue

Meta Platforms, much like other giants in the digital economy, has a knack for emulating the successful features or products of its rivals. They borrowed the Stories format from Snap and introduced Reels — a short video format inspired by TikTok’s success. With Threads, they even seem to pay homage to Twitter, if not X.

Since Meta’s acquisition of WhatsApp in 2014 for $19 billion, efforts have been focused on finding the sweet spot for monetising the platform without driving users away. It appears the company has struck gold with the global roll-out of WhatsApp Channels.

Interestingly, this new feature isn’t a Meta innovation; it’s borrowed from Telegram’s secure messaging service, a feature they’ve had since 2015. Yet, its origin matters less than its prospective impact: WhatsApp Channels promises to be a lucrative avenue for Meta to monetise through sponsored content.

Telegram’s messaging service has seen massive adoption in Russia and other post-Soviet states such as Ukraine, Belarus and Latvia. However, its influence is largely regional due to WhatsApp’s global dominance.

The potency of Telegram Channels was demonstrated effectively by the late Russian Wagner army commander Yevgeny Prigozhin and it continues to be a main conduit for information, both factual and false, relating to Russia’s conflict with Ukraine. Even Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, utilises Telegram Channels extensively.

The Basics of WhatsApp Channels

Accessible via the newly renamed ‘Updates’ tab in the latest version of the WhatsApp mobile app, the Channels feature is incredibly user-friendly, despite the complex technology that powers it.

Unlike public groups, Channels are private; your identity remains concealed. As WhatsApp states, “Admins and followers remain anonymous to each other, ensuring a layer of privacy that is your prerogative to maintain.”

Channels can be used for one-way broadcasting by anyone with a WhatsApp account — be it individuals, businesses, or sports teams. Various content forms, including text, images, videos and polls can be shared.

Importantly, Channels differs from groups and individual chats by enabling private reactions from followers. This removes the reaction irritation common to many content sharing platforms, while further protection is provided with the rule that content must align with WhatsApp’s terms of service.

Commercial Implications

The commercial prospects of WhatsApp Channels are substantial for Meta, as they pave the way for the seamless integration of sponsored content within these Channels. This innovation provides Meta with a commercially viable avenue, mitigating the risk of user discontent that would likely arise from direct monetisation of private messages and group chats. Within this commercial ecosystem, users are predisposed to expect commercial communication, such as advertisements and sponsored content. Furthermore, the direct broadcast model minimises third-party interference, enhancing the integrity of the message.

This isn’t Meta’s first foray into such a feature. Instagram introduced Broadcast Channels in June this year, specifically targeting creators who own a Creator Account. On Facebook, the same feature is powered by Messenger.

Final Thoughts

In my view, the introduction of WhatsApp Channels represents the most significant development since Meta’s takeover. The format holds immense promise for businesses and individuals alike, offering a new medium for private, relevant broadcast content sharing.

I strongly urge all commercial enterprises to evaluate this new channel as a primary means of distributing information to their audience. Despite being additional work, the privacy and functional benefits make it worthwhile, especially given WhatsApp’s widespread use in the digital landscape, including in South Africa.

And, let’s face it, who wouldn’t want to be a broadcaster?