If you have friends or family who live outside the country, there's a good chance you are familiar with WhatsApp. The smartphone app sends text messages, audio and video anywhere in the world via the Internet — meaning costs are far lower than for international calls or texts. The service is so popular that it now has more than 1.5 billion monthly active users worldwide, with 60 billion messages sent every day. For example, more than 80 percent of smartphone users in Finland, Germany, Spain, Italy and Netherlands access the app at least once a month, according to eMarketer, and it's a top messaging app throughout Asia. Compared with the rest of the globe, the United States has been slow to adopt this messaging tool, but eMarketer still predicts WhatsApp will reach 25.6 million users in the U.S. by 2021.
But it can also be a useful tool for event planners, particularly those marketing to international attendees.
What Is WhatsApp?
WhatsApp is a free mobile-messaging app that can be downloaded to most smartphones, with versions for iPhone, Android, Windows and Nokia, as well as a web app and desktop version for Mac and PC. It's simple to use, asking the user to confirm their country and enter their telephone number when they download, importing as many contacts or personal information as they like from Facebook or other contact lists.
There are three main ways to share information via WhatsApp:
- One-to-one chat works like any other messenger or SMS program, allowing users to send images, information or other content directly to another person.
- Broadcast lists works more like a BCC'd email, in which a user sends content out to a list (limited to 256 contacts), but nobody receiving the message can see the other contacts on that list. The missive appears as a direct message and the recipient can reply directly to the sender, like in a one-on-one message.
- With Groups, everyone sees all the other contacts on the list and can reply to everyone. These lists are also limited to 256 contacts, which could get pretty noisy.
How Does WhatsApp Work as a Marketing Tool?
More than two-thirds of mobile messaging app users said they expect to use chat more for communicating with businesses in the next two years, according to Nielsen, and messaging apps boast impressive read rates (44 percent for high-performing apps), which make them highly attractive options when compared with email or other channels.
The free WhatsApp Business app allows professionals to create a catalog to showcase their products or services (in the case of a meeting planner, that could be the agenda for a specific event or their offerings as a planner, depending on the target audience). Users also can install widgets on their business sites where they can use the platform to facilitate customer service.
How Can You Use WhatsApp to Promote a Meeting or Event?
There are a number of ways event planners can leverage WhatsApp to bolster their events. These include:
Gather Leads and Connect With Prospective Attendees
Once you set up a WhatsApp Business account you can add use its "application programming interface" (API) to install a "WhatsApp us" widget to your event website or social media pages, encouraging prospective attendees across the world to establish a more direct connection to you and your event, whether to answer their questions or send them a link to register.
"WhatsApp has a high open and response rate, and hence is a useful way to engage with prospects," explains Renjit Philip, CEO of technology startup Explain.Care Inc., which develops intelligent bots that can be used on messaging apps such as WhatsApp.
WhatsApp is especially well-suited to sharing video and multimedia content, so using it to send preview clips about the upcoming event, a short welcome from the keynote speaker or an eye-catching image file is likely to have more impact than just sending out a text message.
WhatsApp Groups can work well for creating a sense of connection between several attendees. While the service allows for as many as 256 individuals to be added to the list, generally this avenue works better for communication between a handful of people with shared interests.
For example, a meeting planner could set up a WhatsApp group of panelists who are going to be at presenting together, to share information or check in prior to the event. Or if a few dozen attendees are all coming in from the same city or company, they can be connected in case they want to figure out transportation or schedule a meet-up for after-show drinks. If someone feels like the information is not relevant to them, they can be removed from the list, ensuring those who remain want to be there, forming stronger connections with fellow attendees and enhancing their experience of the event or just making it easier to plan their time while there.
Connect With Attendees During an Event
The direct, conversational tone of WhatsApp makes it a more casual and engaging means for communicating with prospects before an event as well as during the meeting.
"You can give your event attendees a WhatsApp number that they can turn to when they have a question," says Olga Mykhoparkina, chief marketing officer at Chanty, an AI-powered team chat that uses messaging apps in its marketing. "You can then use that same channel to create a group chat to promote your event and send out promotional materials as your event is getting closer."
If you expect the platform will be used primarily for logistical questions, such as schedule questions or wayfinding, AI-powered bots can be set up that can respond to most questions attendees would have. Philip of Explain.Care notes that this tool was used recently at the Fast Company Innovation Festival.
Keep the Conversation Going
After the event is over, continue messaging with the individuals who reached out before and during the event. That might mean answering post-event questions from attendees, using the Broadcast List feature to send out surveys or notify the list when registration opens for next year's conference, or sending tailored invitations to specific attendees.
Planners can create targeted lists depending on attendee preferences, ensuring messages are relevant to those receiving the information.
Dos and Don'ts for Event Marketing
Explain.Care Inc's Renjit Philip offers these tips for using WhatsApp when promoting an event:
• Don't do anything to violate the trust of the individuals on your lists. You should not send messages without their consent or swamp them with "sales" messages.
• Don't write copious answers to questions. Keep them snappy and to the point.
• Don't skip the WhatsApp fair use terms and conditions. Abuse of these policies will mean your business will be banned from using WhatsApp.
• Don't send information that could be mistaken for spam. Avoid sending information without customer consent.
• Create separate customer groups and send out useful news, upcoming services and special promotions. You can create a group with up to 256 members in it.
• After getting their consent, you can contact your customers through WhatsApp to see if they will attend your event. You can send event invitations to seminars, or workshops using this channel.
• Be creative with the use of pictures, emojis, gifs and videos. Make sure your messages are clickable and ready to be forwarded to help make your next event a viral hit.
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