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How Marketers Can Use WhatsApp To Drive Massive Traffic

WhatsApp, the SMS-based platform, has more users than Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter and Pinterest combined. They passed the two billion user mark already, reaching every corner of the world (except Antarctica, but c’mon).

Not only that, but it’s kicking the ever-living life out of email. Email marketing is crucial, but think about this for a second: What’s your highest open rate? 35%? 40%?

Yeah. The average SMS text has a 98% open rate. That makes WhatsApp the most engaging marketing channel on the planet.

We’re talking about a platform that is literally taking the world by storm. A high-reach, high-engagement platform that hit 450 million monthly active users faster than any company in existence.

There’s a lot of potential customers for any business, regardless of your niche. Almost any business could appeal to at least a handful of new customers when there are a billion in its audience. But how do you use WhatsApp for marketing in the first place? After all, it’s famously branded as “no ads, no games, no gimmicks.” So how do you, as a marketer, break into that network of millions?

The answer is surprisingly similar to text message (or “SMS”) marketing. You simply sign up, add a phone number, verify it, and start collecting opt-in users.

That means if you want to use WhatsApp for marketing, you have to set up a campaign that collects phone numbers specific to WhatsApp. Fortunately, all that requires is a checkbox or a form field, and you can organize a WhatsApp recipient list in no time.

What Is WhatsApp?

WhatsApp is an app solution that eliminates expensive SMS texting fees. Instead of paying crazy data fees, you can use WhatsApp and send messages for free to anyone in the world.

Want to send a text message from Canada to the US? $0.

A text from Russia to your friend in Hong Kong? $0.

All that is free on WhatsApp.

WhatsApp was created in 2009 by two ex-Yahoo employees who wanted to make free communication available to all. They were the fastest to 450 million active monthly users, and in 2014 Facebook acquired them for $16 billion.

It was the largest acquisition in the history of Silicon Valley. It was 20x larger than the Instagram acquisition, and Facebook reportedly doubled Google’s bid to make sure they acquired WhatsApp.

Yeah. That’s how much Facebook believes in this app.

The cool part is you’re not limited to just text-based messages. You can send

  • Images:
  • Your location:
  • Voice messages:
  • Videos:
  • Documents:

And you can even do voice calls with WhatsApp. Just last three years they passed the 100 million voice calls per day mark. It’s actually starting to overtake Skype for voice call market share.

And think about this. Facebook owns WhatsApp. The market share for Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp combined accounts for 79% of the entire messaging market.

That’s insane. As a marketer, WhatsApp gives you so many ways to communicate to an audience. Images, text, videos, voice messages…the possibilities are endless.

But you need to know who is on the other end of that app. Some countries practically rely on WhatsApp, while others are slower to adopt.

The good news? This large user base is on the brink of taking over your world.

Advantages of WhatsApp

There are so many advantages of WhatsApp to the general public but let’s look at these few. You can use WhatsApp’s Broadcast feature. This feature lets you send an identical message to 256 or fewer people at a time, and you don’t reveal the recipients to one another.

That means you can send the same message to lots of recipients without revealing their contact information. That’s a major advantage in terms of privacy, and since it’s the default setting for WhatsApp, you can be sure you’ll never accidentally show someone’s phone number to somebody else. 

Another big benefit of WhatsApp is that you know someone getting your message has a smartphone. That means if you want to include a link to supplemental material, you can be sure your subscribers will be able to access it. So if you wanted to, you could use the same messages from you SMS strategy and include links that could better engage your recipients. It also gives you the opportunity to send recipients links to your conversion pages so people can convert right on their phones.

In a nutshell, that all means you can instantly contact potential customers around the world with the potential that they can immediately convert.

That’s an amazing opportunity for any company. But does it work?

What companies benefit from WhatsApp?

WhatsApp has the potential to benefit any business, but it works exceptionally well for businesses that frequently sell both locally and internationally. So if you have a concentration of clients anywhere, you could potentially grow that niche by interacting with them via WhatsApp.

As of 2017, WhatsApp’s biggest markets include India, Mexico, Russia, and Brazil. India alone has roughly 200 million users!

No matter how you slice it, WhatsApp is a goldmine for sales. So now that you know if WhatsApp is for you, how do you start using it?

Getting started on WhatsApp

WhatsApp uses cell data to send messages among its users, so international charges don’t apply like they would for phone calls or text messages. Instead, you just use an incredibly small amount of cell data to communicate with potential customers.

screenshot of whatsapp homepage

In other words, if your company has a Wi-Fi connection, you can start using WhatsApp to market to your clients directly. Plus, if you already have an SMS marketing plan, you can take practically everything you’ve created and apply it to WhatsApp.

The big difference between SMS marketing and WhatsApp marketing is that WhatsApp isn’t automated. That means it takes a real marketer a real amount of time to send out a marketing blast.

But, if you already have the messages written, the most time-consuming process is adding all of the recipients to your messages.

Now that you have an account set up, you need to build a list specifically for WhatsApp.

Building your WhatsApp marketing list

If you already have email or SMS marketing campaigns, then you already know how to build a subscriber list.

Basically, offer some high-quality piece of information or content for free and require users to submit their contact information to get it. Except in this case, you want to know more than their phone number and email address — you want to know if they use WhatsApp.

If they do, you can modify your contact form to have a checkbox that says “Contact me on WhatsApp instead of SMS” (or something similar) so you can know for sure that you have willing WhatsApp participants in your marketing funnel.

Then, you can proceed with a typical SMS marketing strategy, using pretty much identical messages to engage users and get new customers.

But WhatsApp marketing isn’t exactly the same as SMS. 

Filling Your WhatsApp Contact List

Here’s the fun part. When you talk to most marketers, they’ll say WhatsApp isn’t viable because there isn’t an easy way to build an audience.

Of course there isn’t an easy way. That’s what makes it worth it.

This is permission-based marketing in its purest form. You have to ask people to join AND you have to give them a great reason to join your group. Especially since they’re giving you their cell phone number.

Since you can’t search for users or pay to acquire them, you have to rely on two methods for growing your WhatsApp following.

1. Give Them Your WhatsApp Number, They Add You

This is the easier of the two methods because you’re not even asking a visitor to give up their number. This is you trusting your number to the masses and giving them the choice to add you.

(Hint: This is why I suggest getting a dedicated phone for a business WhatsApp account. If you’re using your own number, you’re essentially giving out your personal number.)

News outlets in Europe have used this method to build up massive followings. The best example comes from the BBC, as they set up an Ebola Crisis WhatsApp channel for users to receive up to three health alerts daily.

They saw 25,000 people sign up for that group. And all they did was this:

Sample of whatsapp optin strategy

They included that message on articles, emails and promotional pieces. But take note how they ask you to join.

If someone were to add their number and not text ‘JOIN,’ the BBC wouldn’t be able to send them messages. You can’t see if someone adds your number to their contact list. You only know they have your number once they send a message.

Once they text you with whatever code you choose, you manually (ugh, I know) add their number to your contacts list and VOILA…you’ve got their number.

You can take a page from BBC’s playbook and mention it in your articles, but a nice “set it and forget it” solution is including an ask in your email signature.

It takes ten seconds to do and it gives your emails a bit more marketing power. It can even be as simple as this:

Sample of whatsapp optin strategy

Disclaimer: Please don’t text that number.

That does the job of asking the reader to respond to your number. PLUS, it gives the value prop in the description — aka the “why.”

2. Get Their WhatsApp Number, You Add Them

And this tactic involves more than meeting up at a bar and saying “Gimme yo numbah.”

It’s also a little harder than the first tactic. Now you’re asking for someone’s phone number which, if we use my college dating life as a baseline, can be a very difficult thing.

However, you’re eliminating an acquisition step with this method:

whatsapp Acquisition Journey

The previous method places a lot of responsibility on the user. Not only do they have to add you on WhatsApp, but they have to text you, too. For them, there’s no value in that second action. They’d rather add you and be done.

This second method cuts that step but places more work on you (yay!). The user simply gives their phone number to you. It’s up to you to take that number and add it into your contact list.

Granted, there are the standard ways of presenting this ask (Facebook, Twitter, asking your friends). But let me give you a unique way that can drive signups.


Pardon the pun. But if you want to take it a step further, you can specifically target mobile users. They’re the ones able to access WhatsApp easier, right?

You can target those users with a pop-up, and you don’t even need special coding expertise or a degree from MIT to do it. You can set up a List Builder or Scroll Box pop-up, then do this:

Then any pop-up you create will show up for mobile users:

whatsapp optin sample3

And again, from there you have to manually enter the number into your WhatsApp account.

Got some numbers? Great!

Now what?

Step 3. Organize Your Contacts Into Groups and Broadcast List

You can message people 1-to-1 (we’ll talk more about that later). But, most likely, you’ll want to send one message to as many people as possible.

That’s why you need to create groups within WhatsApp. The problem is, there are some restrictions that apply:

  • You Have to Create The Groups Yourself: Not a big deal, but worth noting. You can’t search for existing groups like in LinkedIn, and every group you create is private.
  • You Have To Add All The Numbers: Yep, more numbers. You have to physically type in all the numbers you collect into the individual groups or you give then link to join your group.
  • You Have A Max Group Size: Group sizes keep going up, but they’re still not massive. You can create a group up to 256 people. However, you can have unlimited groups. So while not everyone can be in the same group, you can create duplicate groups for your subscribers. (NOTE: Though bigger groups and public groups could be near.)

Things To Consider When Making Groups

  • Who Will Be In Your Group: Since you’re limited to 256 people per group, you have to decide who will be in which group. All girls in one and guys in another — college-style? Segment by age? Mix everyone together? It’s up to you.
  • What Will The Dynamics of Each Group Be: Different combinations of people will produce different dialogues in these groups. As you add people to groups, think about the demographics and psychographics of your groups.
  • Will You Move People Between Groups: What happens if some people respond quite a bit but others don’t? Do you move them to a new group? Consider overall dynamics and how your audience will feel if they’re moved from group to group.

Good news. If you got through this, then you made it through the most difficult, time-consuming part of WhatsApp. You’ll have everyone in a group, ready to interact with you and your audience.

Now you get to do the fun stuff.

Step 4. Interacting With Your Audience

This is where WhatsApp gets me all hot and bothered (in a good way) as an early-adopter marketer. The possibilities are mouth-wateringly tantalizing.

Think of this platform as email on steroids. Not only can you communicate one to many, but you can communicate one to one for highly personalized interaction.

And they’ll open your message, too. DigitalDefynd found that your message has a 70% chance to be opened. Email can’t touch that.

So when I look out onto the WhatsApp horizon, I see three ways you can use this app right now to build a massive following.

  1. Treat It Like An Email

Me: Quick, what do you use emails for most?

Everyone: Pushing people to a web page, of course.


WhatsApp can do that. This might be the most obvious use of WhatsApp, but it’s also the most straightforward. Send a link → they see the message → they click → mission accomplished.

We’re talking about articles, product pages, landing pages, videos…anything with a link, you can send it:

For those screaming “IT’S NOT TRACKABLE”…fear not. You can always create a UTM code with the Google URL Builder or URL Shortening App. You insert your link, answer a couple questions about where this link is posted and you get this:


When I look at this guide in Google Analytics, I’ll be able to see the source was WhatsApp. It’s an effective way to test how engaged your audience is.

  • Get Down In The Trenches With Market Research

Big or small, you want to know what your audience wants. You can stand around in meetings and make generalizations like, “Well, I don’t feel like people would like this because (INSERT WEIRD REASON).”

OR, you could get down in the trenches and individually ask your users what they like.

Enter WhatsApp.

What seems easier to reply to? Yet another email in your inbox, asking to take a survey with nothing in return?

Or a text like this:

Sample Question and answer

Quick, simple and to the point. It’s not buried in an inbox and it isn’t laced with needless images or introductory fluff.

It’s like you’re having an informal conversation with a friend. It takes the pressure off responding to some faceless corporation. You can dig deep with this strategy and ask things like:

  • User likes and dislikes
  • Wishlists for future features
  • Why they’re using your service
  • If they’d recommend your service to a friend

Don’t waste money sending out emails to your users. Add them on WhatsApp and have an organic, real conversation with them.

  • Give The Middle Finger To Unopened Emails

Alright. Technically I’m cheating by listing a sales use.

But be honest. How many of you marketers also double-time it as salespeople?

The line blurs when you’re a small (or medium) sized business. And losing a potential customer because of a communication breakdown can feel like a backbreaker.

That’s why companies like ProfitBooks are starting to use WhatsApp to connect with their sales leads. They found that using WhatsApp in lieu of a phone call led to a 40% increase in responses.

Why? Because people would rather respond to a quick text than a call that could go on forever.

It’s the perfect way to qualify your leads and protect your valuable time. The response from a short text can help determine if someone is ready to jump on a call. That level of qualification ensures you’re only taking the calls that matter.

Final Thought

Hope we have covered all the steps and tricks marketers can use to drive massive traffic from WhatsApp. Let us know your opinion about using WhatsApp for marketing in the comment box.

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