Have you been thinking about using WhatsApp API for your business but don't know what it is or how it works? This ultimate to WhatsApp Business API answers all your questions. We'll cover WhatsApp API pricing, messaging limitations and applying for an account. Once you finish this article you'll be a WhatsApp Business API expert.
This guide covers WhatsApp API in general. If you're ready to apply for a WhatsApp API account for your company, head over to our guide to Choosing a WhatsApp Partner & Applying for an Account.
- Choosing A WhatsApp Partner
- Providing Company Information
- Activating A Business Number
- Verifying A WhatsApp Business Account
What is WhatsApp Business API?
To understand WhatsApp Business API and why it exists, we have to take a trip back to 2014, when Facebook acquired WhatsApp for an astonishing $16 Billion in cash and stock. At the time, WhatsApp only had 450 million Monthly Active Users, but a staggering 70% of them were active each day. Even with just half a billion users, compared to the 2 billion today, WhatsApp was already sending and receiving more messages each day than SMS.
Fast forward to 2018, with their earnings growth decelerating Facebook comes under pressure to deliver the next cash cow. At the same time, something incredible is happening in developing countries. All around Africa, Latin America & South East Asia, small businesses are skipping email altogether and using their personal WhatsApp accounts as their primary method of communicating with customers. These businesses aren't WhatsApp-first, they're WhatsApp-only.
With these two trends in full force, Facebook sees an opportunity to monetize WhatsApp. For small businesses in emerging and developing markets, WhatsApp launches WhatsApp Business App. For large corporations in mature markets, like Europe where WhatsApp is king of messaging apps, WhatsApp announces WhatsApp Business API.
WhatsApp Business API: Basics
WhatsApp Business API is designed for larger companies to establish their business presence on WhatsApp. Since it is an API, there is no front end interface provided and no app. The idea is businesses take the WhatsApp API endpoint and integrate it into their business software.
The WhatsApp API has three primary use cases:
- to create a branded business presence on WhatsApp
- to respond to customers manually within 24 hours
- send programmatic notifications messages
The branded presence is created by filling out the WhatsApp Business profile.
WhatsApp Business API: Profile
The WhatsApp Business profile allows businesses to establish a presence on WhatsApp using WhatsApp Business API. Unlike other messaging apps, the profile will not be searchable in WhatsApp itself so it is up to the business to promote their presence.
The WhatsApp Business profile includes a cover photo, description, address, email, website and business hours for your WhatsApp Business account. Any account using the WhatsApp Business App will automatically be listed as a Business account.
The other type of WhatsApp Business account that a company can have is an Official business account. These accounts appear with a WhatsApp verified green tick next to their name. Getting verification is hard, but we'll give a rough idea of how to do it in our section: How To Get a WhatsApp Business Account Verified.
WhatsApp Business API: Pricing
WhatsApp API pricing is complicated, this is because WhatsApp API accounts are only available through WhatsApp partners and most WhatsApp Partners are SMS providers. Naturally, they want to charge their SMS fees on top of WhatsApps fees.
In general, WhatsApp doesn't charge anything for messages sent within 24 hours (Session Messages) and a small fee for messages sent after 24 hours (Template Messages). The Template Message fee depends on destination country.
Since the WhatsApp Partner charges a fee on top of that, the price you pay for WhatsApp messaging will largely depend on which provider you choose. We have a detailed summary and comparison of popular WhatsApp Partners' API pricing structures in our guide on How To Choose A WhatsApp Partner.
Now that you know roughly how much it's going to cost you, let's talk about how customers can be added as WhatsApp contacts.
WhatsApp API: Contact Opt-In & Verification
Before you start sending messages on WhatsApp Business API, WhatsApp wants users to give active consent. There are two ways for a user to consent to receive messages:
- The user sends the first message
- The user agrees to an active opt-in method
The active opt-in method requires the user to give consent through an action such as checking a box or entering a phone number.
Theoretically, users can opt-in from anywhere, as long as they give active consent. Depending on your use case, getting opt-in may be complex. So remember that you always have the option to encourage users to send you the first message instead.
Once a customer opts-in, you can import them to a CRM. WhatsApp Business API has a function that allows you to verify that the customer's phone number is a valid WhatsApp account before you send a message.
Currently, there is no callback to inform you when a WhatsApp user joins or leaves the network, so you should likely use this function to check the account if sending a message fails. This could be an indication that a user has changed their number.
That said, according to WhatsApp you will be banned if you check too many phone numbers without sending messages. This is likely to avoid spammers on the platform.
WhatsApp Business API: Messaging
WhatsApp Business API only provides an API endpoint that companies can connect to internal software solutions or a tool like ours. This means you'll need to have some platform to connect to before you can send and receive messages.
Once you're ready to go with a CRM here's what you can expect.
Unlike another popular chat app, Facebook Messenger WhatsApp doesn't really have any fancy Chat UI elements. Cards, lists or carousels are not available to help you get your point across. You're mostly stuck with plain text, emoji, files and media.
You'll want to leverage the types of media that WhatsApp can play natively like audio or WhatsApp's picture-in-picture feature that allows users to watch Facebook, Instagram and YouTube videos on a small window within WhatsApp itself.
And don't hesitate to leverage emojis and stickers. You'll be surprised how far you can get with those. ABN AMRO, a Dutch bank, ran an entire marketing campaign using only WhatsApp stickers.
Like regular WhatsApp, you'll have sent, received and read notifications that will help you understand if you've got your point across. Last but not least, WhatsApp API has recently added support for location sharing messages as well.
Now, the WhatsApp messaging interface is simple, but the messaging limitations for business are not.
WhatsApp session messaging is a limitation that stops businesses from messaging customers after 24 hours. WhatsApp created this limitation to ensure WhatsApp becomes the premier platform for customer service.
You can contact a company several ways, but you'll send the message wherever they respond fastest. The 24-hour rule encourages companies to be fastest over WhatsApp. It also prevents spammy marketing messages from getting sent after 24 hours.
How does session messaging work? Imagine a 24-hour timer. Whenever a contact sends an incoming message to a WhatsApp API connected business, the timer is reset. Inside these 24 hours, the company can send outgoing messages to that user without any restrictions.
Once the session messaging window closes, businesses will only be able to send template messages to their contacts.
Sending messages to WhatsApp contacts 24 hours after their last incoming message requires using a WhatsApp template message. WhatsApp charges per template message, with prices varying depending on the region you send these messages from and to.
So what is a WhatsApp template message exactly? Template messages are strings of text, with placeholders, pre-approved by WhatsApp. Pre-approval ensures that sales-related or bulk marketing messages cannot be sent easily after 24 hours.
Think you can fool WhatsApp by getting a marketing message approved as your template and bulk send it? Maybe, but WhatsApp Business API has a 15 messages per second template messaging rate limit as an additional safeguard.
Template messaging is designed for customer updates and provides a few pre-approved messages out of the box. These are related to order status updates, delivery updates, travel notifications, and two-factor authentication.
The WhatsApp API allows companies to request additional template messages that generally take a week or two to be approved or denied. Selecting a template message category states the function and intent of the template message you are creating.
Most of these categories are designed for transactional template messages. However, using the available template message categories like Account Update, it is possible to include messages that discuss changes to the way features work for example.
Since template messages are approved one at a time, it is up to you to explore the true limitations of the template message approval process. What we do know for sure is that WhatsApp will not approve a message template if it includes any:
- Words/ phrases that imply promotion or up-selling
- Cold call messages
- Spelling mistakes
- Floating parameters (i.e. lines with only parameters and no text)
If you need to write a message template to re-open the 24-hour window, a key tip is to start with some mention of the previous conversation thread. Check out these approved examples from WhatsApp:
- I'm sorry that I wasn't able to respond to your concerns yesterday but I’m happy to assist you now. If you’d like to continue this discussion, please reply with ‘yes’
- I was able to do some follow-up based on our previous conversation, and I’ve found the answer to your question about our refund policy. If you’d like to continue our conversation, please say ‘yes’
Recently WhatsApp also added a localization feature that stores message templates as language packs. A language pack is a bundle of message template elements for a particular language or locale. So you can send template messages to several regions in several languages.
Now that you know all about one to one messaging, let's discuss group messaging.
Since WhatsApp Groups are still in beta, this feature is not offered by any WhatsApp Partners yet. However, we can give a little preview of what will be possible.
Businesses can't be added to or join a group. A business can only create groups and manage them. Additional administrators can be added as well. Participants can only be invited via message, they can not be force added.
By now, you should be an expert on WhatsApp API, the only thing left is to create your account.
Applying for a WhatsApp Business API Account
WhatsApp Business accounts must have approved by WhatsApp these approvals are handled by WhatsApp Partners. To apply for an account you'll need to:
- Choose a WhatsApp Partner
- Provide Company Information
- Activate Your Number
1. Choosing A WhatsApp Partner
When you choosing a WhatsApp Partner you connect to the partner's API and not to WhatsApp API directly. So you'll need to evaluate the partners based on:
- can they port your phone number or provide a number in the country you desire
- does the pricing suit your message volume
- do they support all the WhatsApp API functions you need
Check out our guide on How To Choose A WhatsApp Partner to get started.
2. Providing Company Information
It will depend on the partner, but in general, you'll need to submit a packet of basic information about your company like:
- Company name
- Website URL
- Use case
- Operating region
- Country of company headquarters
- Facebook Business Manager ID
If you haven't already you'll need to verify your business on Facebook by uploading official documents proving that your business registration. These documents must show the legal name of your company and your official mailing address or phone number.
Once you have your Facebook Business Manager ID and are Facebook Business verified, you can submit your information to WhatsApp. The WhatsApp account approval process takes 3 to 14 days depending on the partner.
3. Activating A Business Number
Once your brand has been approved by WhatsApp, it's time to add a phone number for your account.
Choose the number you want carefully as you won't be able to change it later. For existing numbers, your WhatsApp Partner may be able to port the number for you. For new numbers, some WhatsApp Partners will be able to sell you a number although not all partners provide numbers in all countries.
Once your number is activated you can go ahead and connect it to your CRM of choice.
4. How To Get a WhatsApp Business Account Verified
WhatsApp Business Accounts without a tick will not show your business name in the contacts view, just your phone number. You will need an Official WhatsApp Business Account to show your business name.
Once you've been verified, there will be a green tick beside your company's display name and the name of your business will be visible even if a user hasn't added you to their address book yet.
In general, the approval rate for smaller, local brands is low. WhatsApp only really verifies the big brands, think Coca-Cola and Nike. That said, requesting approval is still worth a try. But in case you were wondering, no – a business can't request or pay to turn a business account into an official business account.
There is no official process for verification, so you'll need to contact your WhatsApp partner to see if they can help you with that.
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