An introduction to the WhatsApp Business API

Pippa Updated by Pippa

Find out what the WhatsApp Business API is and why it’s become a valuable customer-engagement tool.

By now, you’re convinced to use WhatsApp as a communication channel, but you still need to determine which application within the WhatsApp eco-system is most suitable for your organisation.

Let’s start by looking at some of the differences between the WhatsApp Business app and the WhatsApp Business API:

WhatsApp Business app

WhatsApp Business API

Target market

A standalone app for small businesses with local audiences.

Best suited to large organisations that want to communicate at a global scale.

Account setup

Purchase a new sim card and download the app to get started.

You’ll need the assistance of a business service provider (BSP) like Turn to help with integration and set-up.

Costs

The app is free to use.

Some types of messages are free; others come at a price.

Permitted content

You can message any of your contacts whenever it suits you.

You can only respond within 24 hours if a user gets in touch with you. Alternatively, you can send paid-for, highly structured message templates.

Team

Only one person or agent can access the app.

An unlimited number of agents can access the API.

Accessibility

Use the service via a dedicated app. 

Use a user interface such as Turn.io to chat.

Calls

App can make voice and video calls.

Voice and video calls are not possible.

Automation

Use quick replies for frequently asked questions.

Use automation to manage replies at scale.

Contacts

Built-in phone book.

No built-in customer relationship management (CRM), but integration with external systems possible.

In short, if you’re a small business engaging with around 1,000 unique users per month and need a simple way to set up a few basic responses and use features like quick replies, you can get going by downloading the free WhatsApp Business app from Google Play or the Apple App Store.

However, if you’re a large organisation with a potential global audience – and you require more sophisticated automation functionality or artificial intelligence (AI)-driven solutions to serve your end-users – the API is a better fit.

What is an API?

Once you’ve established that the WhatsApp Business API offers the perfect chat solution for your organisation, you might still be wondering what an API actually is.

Let’s explain the concept of an “Application Programming Interface” (API) by using a simple comparison:

Imagine for a moment that you're staying at a hotel. An API can be compared to the reception desk. The staff at reception makes it easy for you, the hotel guest, to tap into a variety of services – from getting your clothes ironed and your calls put through to your room to ordering breakfast. You don’t have to worry about what goes on behind the scenes. You simply pick up the phone or walk to the desk, and the staff acts as the “interface” that connects you to all the other hotel services.

In the same way, an API allows applications to communicate with each other, exchange information, and shield users from all the complexities that go on behind the scenes.

The WhatsApp Business API

When it comes to the business of chatting for impact, we’re specifically interested in the WhatsApp Business API, as it’s a fast, secure, reliable way for organisations to reach a global audience.

The WhatsApp Business API supports many of the features you’ve been using on WhatsApp all along, including the fact that your messages and other information are secured from falling into the wrong hands. The key difference is that the application can be deployed on a server, providing a local API that allows you to send and receive messages programmatically. The API can also integrate with your existing systems.

It’s important to note that WhatsApp offers no user interface for the WhatsApp Business API. You cannot download an app like you can for the personal or business solution, and neither is the API open and available to all organisations. You can only access the API via official business solution providers (BSPs) such as Turn.io.

The API is subject to a set of rules, which we will explore in subsequent articles. For now, the key points to remember are:

  • You can only access the API via official business solution providers (BSPs) such as Turn.io.
  • The application process takes time but provides the benefit that users can trust your business profile on WhatsApp.
  • WhatsApp doesn’t allow marketing and promotional notifications. If you’re used to push-based communication strategies, you’ll need to re-wire your thinking to design a pull-based service. With this type of service, the end-user is in charge of the conversation.
  • An unlimited number of people and devices can access your account via the API. This means that a whole team can work together to give your users the best experience possible.
  • You can integrate the API with your internal systems. You can connect your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) or Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) tools to it, or integrate it with your preferred analytics tools.
  • There are different message types that can be utilised with the API. Some message types are free, while you’ll need to pay for others.

Help is at hand

Turn.io provides access to the WhatsApp Business API, giving social-impact organisations the building tools they need to amplify the remarkable work they do.

The Turn.io product is a web-based application that provides both a user interface for non-technical team members and API endpoints for developers. We love this technology because it allows our clients to automate repetitive tasks and free up their creativity to focus on the tasks machines cannot do: solving challenging problems that require empathy. 💛

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