As it appeared in the Daily Nation on December 6th 2016

Love it or Hate it, WhatsApp has revolutionized how we communicate via instant messaging!  In 2011, a friend based in the USA told me about a new app cheaper than regular SMSs. I thought the name was “What’s Up”, the slang greeting. I soon figured out the correct spelling and downloaded the App. By then, there were less than 10 of my contacts already on it.  The App was meant to be free for one year and thereafter a $0.99 annual fee would apply. A year later, I did not receive any fee notification and continued to enjoy the free messaging service.

In Kenya and other emerging markets, the app has picked very fast.  Today, WhatsApp, which was acquired by Facebook in 2014, has gone from a messaging service for family and friends to a powerful business communications tool.  It is arguably seen as the world’s fastest growing communication app. An August article in the financial times by Hanna Kuchler postulates that WhatsApp is actively courting business. Therefore, the use of the app in business is likely to grow.  Although my personal relationship with WhatsApp has been that of love and hate in equal measure, I am grateful for the app. Looking back, I never imagined that the app would have much potential. I also doubt if its founders and former yahoo employees Brian Acton and Jan Koum reckoned its potential when they founded it in 2009.

A key question regarding the app is “are we communicating effectively on WhatsApp?” In 2014, I started informal conversations on the WhatsApp etiquette during customer Service training sessions. Soon, I introduced a session on general WhatsApp communication such as the need to restrain ourselves from sending too many long forwards and many videos. Of substantial importance and concern to many has been the WhatsApp groups. I have just looked through my phone and I am currently in 27. My groups range from board members to my primary school alumni. I find almost all these groups valuable. Even though WhatsApp has eased and streamlined communication, our etiquette on the app leaves a lot to be desired.

In the business world, WhatsApp is currently being used for staff and customer communication, for customer support, for marketing communications and even for order placement. We all know what we like and what we detest about WhatsApp. Here are a few thoughts on WhatsApp customer communication. First off all, we should not create a group called customers, for customer updates and support, one-on-one is preferred.  Secondly, we need to be courteous, using basic courtesies such as please, kindly, thank you, correct grammar, stick to purpose of the group and keep funny videos out of business communication. In addition, it is courteous to respond to WhatsApp queries. The only ones I find a difficult responding to are those with only two-letter word “Hi”. We should not pester customers for quick responses because they are online or have read our message as they may be busy on another urgent conversation. Finally sharing lengthy messages or those whose source is suspicious is a no no. For staff group chats, admin have a key responsibility in moderating group interactions, introducing new group members and ensuring that the conversation stick to the purpose of the group. I believe we can all get better in how we use the app for business!

Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer connect via twitter @KiruthuLucy

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