Meta CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg told employees of the struggling platform that WhatsApp business messaging services and Messenger will be driving the growth of the company for the foreseeable future, rather than the much-vaunted metaverse. He was trying to allay any concerns from remaining employees about the financial future of the company after it made the first mass layoffs in its history, letting 11,000 workers go.
He is said to have described WhatsApp and Messenger as being “very early in monetising” compared with the company’s larger social media platforms Instagram and Facebook. In comments reported by Reuters, Zuckerberg added that “we talk a lot about the very long-term opportunities like the metaverse, but the reality is that business messaging is probably going to be the next major pillar of our business as we work to monetise WhatsApp and Messenger more.”
Meta has been working to improve the enterprise position for WhatsApp in recent months, including a move that allowed business users to share accounts across more devices through a cloud-based subscription model. This was built out of an existing on-premises solution used by Vodafone, BMW and others where they pay per message sent.
It isn’t exactly clear how Meta plans to further monetise its messaging platforms but the announcement is a sign of a shifting tone from Zuckerberg, putting less focus on extended reality, presenting it as a long-term ambition and instead focusing on more immediate growth opportunities.
WhatsApp business push
In September, Meta confirmed WhatsApp Cloud API would allow for integration with Salesforce, allowing administrators to manage communication directly from the Saleforce platform. The company said it plans to build out further tools and support in the future, including showcasing products and managing the process independently of WhatsApp.
This year it has stepped up efforts to push the business potential for messaging, including selling WhatsApp as a call centre solution, claiming that “WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram Direct offer business solutions that can complement existing tools” including click-to functionality from site, app or ad to a conversation with a sales rep using the WhatsApp API.
Competition in the space is fierce, with WhatsApp going up against popular apps such as Telegram, Signal and Chinese messaging service WeChat.
Gartner analyst Daniel O’Connell told Tech Monitor that many tech leaders are grappling with whether to adopt a service like WhatsApp as it allows businesses to communicate with customers through a platform they’re already using.
He believes Facebook is looking to copy the model successfully pioneered by WeChat, through which users can access a wide range of services and make payments. “In China there is so much done in WeChat and where we may have 50 or 100 apps, in China they have far less because WeChat replaces so many apps,” O’Connell says. “You could do a lot more with WhatsApp, you could book airline tickets, take payments and integrate bots.”
Earlier this year, Zuckerberg announced: “The best business experiences meet people where they are. Already more than one 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.”
O’Connell added: “Companies realise they need to engage with customers in the channel they want to engage in and it is not possible now to use voice calling, voicemail and emails. WhatsApp and messaging apps are where they need to be.”
During the recent internal staff forum Zuckerberg also highlighted the need to find revenue from the long-play investments. He told employees that 20% of the total Meta budget was spent on Reality Labs, the unit responsible for metaverse and half of its budget is spent on augmented reality and smart glasses.
He said products would emerge “over the next few years” with “truly great” augmented reality offerings appearing by the end of the decade. The most challenging part, he told the internal call, is finding the most valuable potential parts of the work going into this early technology investment.
Also on the call, CTO of Reality Labs, Andrew Bosworth said AR glasses need to reach a point where they are more useful than a mobile phone and the focus was on broad appeal rather than niche industrial applications.