Just last week, WhatsApp unveiled a new feature known as "Communities" to bring together separate groups under one umbrella. That way people can receive updates sent to the entire Community and easily organise smaller discussion groups on what matters to them. Some of the features include emoji reactions, supporting files up to 2GB, one-tap voice calling for up to 32 people, and announcement messages by admins.
“Organisations such as schools, local clubs, and non-profit organisations rely on WhatsApp to communicate securely and get things done – especially since the pandemic forced us all to find creative ways to work together while apart. Given lots of feedback we’ve received, we think there’s more we can do to make it easier to help people manage these busy conversations among these kinds of groups,” it said. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post that he expects Communities to be "an important evolution" for WhatsApp and online communication overall.
"In the same way that social feeds took the basic technology behind the Internet and made it so anyone could find people and content online, I think community messaging will take the basic protocols behind one-to-one messaging and extend them so you can communicate more easily with groups of people to get things done together," he explained. Community messaging features for Messenger, Facebook, and Instagram will be built as well.
WhatsApp is commonly used among communities such as schools, work, and the neighbourhood to keep track of information and discuss issues. Without a doubt, Communities now allows WhatsApp to rival other business communication platforms such as Teams, Slack, and Skype. While this is definitely beneficial for users and offers a more seamless experience, the issue of work-life balance arises. For those who wish to maintain a work-life balance, Communities might not offer them an easy way to switch off from WhatsApp.
WhatsApp's spokesperson told MARKETING-INTERACTIVE that conversations on the platform are one-to-one or in small groups with families and close friends. But close-knit groups such as schools, local clubs, and even businesses also want and need to have secure and private conversations, which will now be made available via Communities. "As with WhatsApp groups today, users will continue to have the option to mute, archive or leave groups linked to Communities that are not relevant to them," the spokesperson said.
Although WhatsApp is commonly used by companies due to its convenience, Phang Mei Jeng, MD of Ensemble Worldwide Malaysia, told MARKETING-INTERACTIVE that there is less segregation between work and personal life. Apps such as Teams and Slack allow that and with notifications switched off, users have the option to not open the app until they wish to. Phang explained that these apps also offer an easier way to trace conversations, with better organisation of files and folders.
There are also collaborative features seamlessly built into these apps, primarily improving work efficiencies. "So the answer is simple, these other chat apps will still have their own place in this ecosystem of communication," she said.
Nonetheless, Phang said Communities will herald "a new era for group communications" and this move will be very much welcomed. There are instances when users have too many group chats that communicating on WhatsApp gets messy and the content becomes difficult to trace. "The new features will definitely preserve the best of what we like about WhatsApp while helping keep things in a more organised and structured manner," she added.
While Communities will allow for user interactions to widen beyond existing contacts, M&C Saatchi Performance's account director, Melissa Yik, told MARKETING-INTERACTIVE that companies which are currently on Teams, Skype, and Slack, for example, will be unlikely to shift to Communities soon due to the restricted number of participants. Teams allows for 250 individuals to be in a private chat while only 20 are allowed in a video or audio call chat. Meanwhile, Skype allowed for users to call 100 participants at once while Slack allows 1,000 to be added into a channel at once.
The limit to file sharing sizes in Communities also inhibits communications within teams themselves. In this instance, Teams, for example, allows individuals to share a file size of up to 250GB. However, for smaller project management that is more time-sensitive, Communities might be an option for more real-time interactions and replies.
Accelerating social commerce
Aside from improving communication, Communities can also be seen as a way to accelerate the social commerce momentum from a chat perspective, Aiken Digital's GM for Singapore and Malaysia, Kenneth Chiew said. Instead of a one-to-one business or chat commerce function, this new feature will enable different segments of core brand and business advocates to receive the latest updates, promotions, and deals as a community.
"The ripple effect within the community groups will result in higher gross merchandise value. "By communicating new promotions and deals or even new products, businesses can also have a more accurate gauge for demand forecasting within the community before sharing to the wider public," he explained.
Meanwhile, like Ensemble's Phang, Chiew said that Teams and Slack will still be one of the top choices for internal communications among businesses while WhatsApp will retain its edge for personal communications, as well as for consumers to engage with brands.
WhatsApp currently has WhatsApp Business, which enables businesses to personally connect with customers, highlight their products and services, and answer their questions. Businesses can also create a catalogue to showcase their products and services. WhatsApp's spokesperson explained to MARKETING-INTERACTIVE that WhatsApp Business was created with small business owners in mind, giving them tools that allow for easier interaction with customers. The idea behind Communities is that organisations such as schools, local clubs, and non-profit organisations, are already using WhatsApp to get things done.
From the feedback the company received, it thinks there’s more the team can do to make it easier to help people manage these busy conversations. "So Communities will be available on both WhatsApp and WhatsApp Business. If you are a small business owner, you’ll be able to link your existing WhatsApp groups into one organised community," the spokesperson added.
According to M&C Saatchi's Yik, Communities ideally wants to build interaction within a community to encourage sharing between a controlled group, with the admin having full control over the content and messages shared between and with participants. On the other hand, WhatsApp Business is a tool for commerce that allows businesses to interact directly with their customers.
" As WhatsApp Communities are not used solely by businesses, it made sense for it to be a separate product. The product likely replaced within Meta with this launch would be Facebook Groups, where the main communications can easily be replicated on Communities," she explained.
Also weighing in on the matter was Magnus Indonesia's MD Pradhana H who said WhatsApp for Business is a tool that is skewed towards offering business support while Communities focuses more on collaborating as a group or team. "It is nice to see WhatsApp make such a move and have it take into consideration user feedback. Since 2020, we applied a full WFH policy and WhatsApp is one of the essential tools we use to coordinate meetings and keep ourselves connected with one another," he added.
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