Ged Carroll

WhatsApp | Facebook post (part II)

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This post follows on from my first post that looked at the valuation of the WhatsApp acquisition.

The  why
From a WhatsApp point-of-view the why is perfectly simple, everyone gets rewarded for all the hard work that has been put in building a successful product with 430+ million users around the world. It is the end pay in a classic Silicon Valley fairy tale.

For Facebook I think that the why becomes more complex and multi-faceted. If we have a look at Mark Zuckerberg’s own statement around the deal, some aspects of his explanation stood out:

If it’s not advertising what is it?
It was quite telling that the top comment on Zuckerberg’s posting about the deal was:

Chiranjeev Kumar Dear Mark Zuckerberg, You own Facebook, Instagram and now Whatsapp. Basically, you guys have more information than NSA, RAW & ISI combined.

Facebook already has a wealth of data on a number of people who aren’t on Facebook with shadow profiles of everyone who features in many Facebook users address books but who aren’t currently members. It can see if they are in more than one users social graph. WhatsApp offers the potential to enrich this database further.

A question of identity – In many countries like China, consumers have two or more email addresses, one of which is used for circumstances when they are likely to be spammed. A mobile phone number offers a greater likelihood of relating to a real identity, as the barrier to entry on replacing your mobile number is a bit higher.

Enriched with context – every bit of data that Facebook can get about activity that occurs outside of a Facebook page helps with advertising targeting, even if the advertising isn’t served up through WhatsApp. I suspect there is a large overlap between the current Facebook and WhatsApp user base. When I think about Hong Kong which has a 50+% WhatsApp penetration and high Facebook adoption, it is easy to see how this context could enrich consumer insight for Facebook. I used WhatsApp to deal with my estate agent, building contractors repairing the air-conditioning unit and even put in my pizza order!

WhatsApp has a number of low risk untapped sources of potential incremental revenue:

One-to-one brand relationships – WhatsApp has the potential to be an opt-in one-to-one marketing channel with a personalised and enriched relationship greater than that provided by a Facebook page. Similar services are already provided on WeChat, LINE and KakaoTalk to allow brands engagement with consumers.

For example here is what the consumer sees on WeChat:
And here is what WeChat’s enterprise dashboard looks like:

WeChat, KakaoTalk and LINE all make money from stickers. Stickers are used in Asia as communications short hand, or as a social lubricant when it would be harder to put words to reply to a message.
At the moment WhatsApp hasn’t developed this content fully. I am not so sure that European consumers would pay for this content but some consumers will. All of this will chip away to make the deal look better value but are still comparative drops in the bucket to help raise the WhatsApp ARPU to numbers closer to Facebook.

Partners to enemies?
All of this still makes mobile telecoms operators like Vodafone cheap in comparison to their internet cousins and it isn’t currently clear what their response will be in the coming months. Facebook will have gone from being partner who helps sell more data, to competitor corroding the SMS revenue cash cow.

Looking at data published on Twitter by Benedict Evans you are looking at a volume of messages that threatens to exceed SMS volumes. And this doesn’t include rival services such as WeChat, LINE etc, just WhatsApp; at least some of those messages will be substitutes for using SMS.

More information
Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook posting about acquiring WhatsApp
Facebook: IPO postmortem – a dispassionate analysis