In a bid to stave off growing competition from Snapchat, Facebook – through Whatsapp – has launched a new feature called ‘status’. The feature, unveiled on February 20, will allow users to share media to a feed, and scroll through content posted by others, much like they currently do on Instagram and Facebook. Interestingly, in an obvious imitation of Snapchat’s ‘stories’ feature launched three years ago, content will disappear after 24 hours.
Facebook launched a similar time-limited feature on Instagram last year, which was shamelessly also called ‘stories’. Though similar to that update, the recent announcement marks a huge shift for Whatsapp, given that it will change how the platform’s billion monthly users currently use the app. Up to now, consumers have used Whatsapp as a functional tool to send direct messages, either via one-on-one conversations or as part of a group. Now, with the status feature, users will begin spending more time on the platform as a source of entertainment.
Whatsapp aims to allow users to communicate with organisations that people “want to hear from”
Status thus opens the door for new business and advertising opportunities within Whatsapp – a strategy that has been in the pipeline since the platform scrapped its annual subscription fee last year. Instead of the nominal fee, which the company found to be ineffective in various countries, Whatsapp instead aims to allow users to communicate with organisations that people “want to hear from”.
“That could mean communicating with your bank about whether a recent transaction was fraudulent, or with an airline about a delayed flight. We all get these messages elsewhere today – through text messages and phone calls – so we want to test new tools to make this easier to do on Whatsapp, while still giving you an experience without third-party ads and spam”, said a Whatsapp blog on the update.
As chat bots have so far been unsuccessful, it would seem that this is the only way Whatsapp can finally monetise its mammoth global audience, despite co-founder and CEO Jan Koum being vehemently against advertisements from the very beginning.