We’ve all seen those memes that have a really frustrated face and the copy, “When they call you, instead of just texting.” Over several years, with cell phone data plans and wifi becoming common-place, most of us have moved from phone calls to text-based (SMS, instant messaging, email etc.) communication. Text-based communication allows us to efficiently communicate with whoever we want, without the demands of conversation. For the most part, we can choose when to respond, without any extraneous “small-talk,” and get to details that more quickly.
I’m going speak to the ubiquitous instant messaging app known as WhatsApp, (hence the title of this piece). As of January 2017, there were 1.2 BILLION active users of WhatsApp. That’s up from 430 Million in January 2014, a 179% increase in 3 years.  This incredible growth led Facebook to purchase the app for USD$19 Billion in February 2014.
With all these people using WhatsApp, let’s talk about its application (pun intended) for business. There’s a tendency to be more casual and brief, but it’s important to maintain the same level of professionalism as with any other type of business communication. The absence of body language and tone of voice, makes non-verbal communication harder to provide context. Based on the research of Albert Mehrabian, acclaimed Professor Emeritus of Psychology, UCLA, eye contact, facial expressions and other non-verbal cues convey over 55% of a message dealing with feelings and attitude. Yup, that’s right, most of our understanding of a message comes from body language. This means it’s exceedingly difficult to truly understand the state of mind behind a WhatsApp message.
I believe that one of the major abuses of whatsapping for business, is the tendency to “stalk,” which is felt in two ways.
That blue double tick can really be a frustration for someone who has sent a message and is awaiting a response, but people should really be allowed to be able to be respond in their own time. For the receiver of the message, WhatsApp guilt is a real thing! You want to be able to read a message – but you may not be prepared to answer, and that’s why as a sender, you should really think about the question is better sent as an email that allows the receiver the time to respond.
People also believe that the normal constraints of business hours don’t apply to WhatsApp, but they should be even more applicable. Outside of business hours, a phone is still more likely to be in close physical proximity to the receiver. For those who don’t separate work and personal phones, getting a work-related message on Sunday morning is especially annoying. We certainly can consider that the sender is not expecting a response at that moment, as well as the fact that some receivers will be able to ignore it, but then why use a method that’s whole reason for being is “instant?” Yes, the sender may not want to forget the message, but the receiver may not be in the frame of mind to instantly “receive.”
For years, I avoided using WhatsApp for business by simply not having it on my business phone. People were SHOCKED that they couldn’t be reached via WhatsApp – it was like telling someone I didn’t use email. However, I moved to a company that used it as a company-wide communication tool, which made me more aware of the pros and cons. Since it is more and more becoming a preferred method of communication, here are a few Do’s and Don’ts of WhatsApp business etiquette:
- Use it to communicate quick updates: e.g., I’ll be 15 minutes late to our meeting, (more on chronic tardiness in another post); We keep missing each other via phone, are you available now for a quick call? Longer communications should be an email, or if a discussion, a phone call with an email as follow up for *CYA
- Get to the point. No need for a “Hi Erin,” and wait for a response. If your relationship is all business, the receiver knows there’s something you want. Be polite, but you don’t have to exchange pleasantries. The best communication is, an all-in-one message: “Hi Erin, please confirm that we’re on for our 2pm meeting today.”
- Use it for team groups. I’ve seen it as a great way for small groups to share competitor information, congratulate each other on a job well done, communicate at events. Just beware of ** whatccidents
- Stalk people on WhatsApp by checking to see if they’re online, if they’ve read your message, follow-up 20 times to see if they have a response to the sponsorship proposal that you sent yesterday. In fact, don’t use it as a follow-up tool for a sales pitch. If you’re not comfortable calling, perhaps you should move on.
- Message outside of business hours. Ever. Just don’t. If you don’t want to forget, send an email, if it’s an emergency, then a call is better and the receiver will understand
- Use it to talk smack about someone. Ever heard of screen shots? You don’t want what you thought was an innocent, but humorous comment about your boss’s disastrous presentation to become public fodder. Yes, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all, but we’re human – best to keep these types of comments verbal. People will better understand the intent of a joke with verbal, face-to-face conversation and it’s best to not use a method that can be used as evidence
- Use WhatsApp with a Senior-Level Manager unless they have initiated contact via WhatsApp first. Stick to colleagues on your level, and initiate the contact with your direct reports if you’re comfortable with it
Hopefully, these tips will improve your use of WhatsApp.
*CYA – Cover Your Ass
** A ‘whatccident,’ occurs when the wrong message is delivered in a group chat. Ooops!
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