This morning a Facebook employee told us that Facebook ads are coming to WhatsApp and Messenger starting in January 2017.
Techcrunch announced back in February that Facebook was to begin allowing ads inside its Messenger app, but this is the first time we’ve seen a clear target date for the roll-out.
What does this mean for businesses?
Facebook ads have long been one of the highest-performing ad channels for many businesses. Opening up Instagram as an additional ad channel gave advertisers access to an audience consuming content in a different way and, for many, Instagram has been one of the highest ROI channels within the Facebook ad ecosystem.
Opening up Messenger and WhatsApp to adverts will give businesses more ways to ‘touch’ their target audience. More visibility means more ad views and clicks, and with competition on Facebook itself driving up ad costs, having more media options should hopefully decrease some of that pressure or at the very least give a few months of relatively cheap clicks for advertisers who adopt into these new platforms early on.
It is particularly exciting given how engaged the WhatsApp audience is (Global Web Index found that 82% of WhatsApp users use the app at least daily).
What will the ads look like?
At this stage, it’s too early to tell what the ads will look like or how Facebook will integrate them into the apps’ UIs. Will they show on the message inbox screen, inside individual messages, or as banner ads across the app? One thing that we can be sure of is that Facebook won’t want to damage user experience too much when the audience is so valuable. Expect a fairly subtle roll out and for Facebook to continue prioritising ads with high Relevance Score in order to serve up commercial messages most likely to be of actual interest to each user.
How will the ads be targeted?
We expect WhatsApp and Messenger ads to be managed from inside the existing Facebook Ad platform. Facebook already knows enough about its users to provide what is arguably the most advanced audience targeting platform in history, so we would expect the targeting options inside Facebook Ad manager to stay broadly the same, with the new platforms now showing as choices in the Audience Targeting section.
Whether Facebook can start bringing in WhatsApp user data (such as conversation topics, user behaviours and relationships, for example) only time will tell, but recent coverage shows just how contentious the privacy issues are. Realists accept that the reason WhatsApp exists and was purchased by Facebook is to provide advertisers with ways to reach an audience, but naive users who expect a large team to constantly update and improve a free app without any hope of monetising it will need to be dealt with carefully as the ad roll-out begins.