WhatsApp Channels have become an obsession quickly among celebrities and creators across the globe. Many have signed up from Netflix, Football Clubs like Liverpool and Real Madrid, to David Guetta and Olivia Rodrigo. It’s a feature Zuckerberg launched early this month allowing users to keep track of updates from followers and organizations. Channels can be spotted in a new tab near the ‘Status’ tab in your WhatsApp application. The platform made headlines in the UAE & KSA last week.
WhatsApp Channels is a one-way broadcast feature that allows admins to send text, photos, videos, stickers, and polls to their followers, it’s different from chats and the already existing status feature. Channels are discoverable via a searchable directory. You can also get to a channel from invite links sent in chats, e-mail, or posted online.
Updates, that came with the global roll-out to the feature include admins of Channels having the power to edit their posts. There's also an enhanced directory, where users can discover Channels filtered by country and other metrics like how active they are and how many followers they have. People can also react to posts on Channels with emojis.
Communicate spoke to Moon Baz, Creator Partnerships Lead, Africa, Middle East, and Turkey at Meta to further delve into the launch of this platform.
In image above: Moon Baz, Creator Partnerships Lead, Africa, Middle East, and Turkey at Meta
How does this new feature of WhatsApp channels promise privacy and encryption?
We’re aspiring to build the most private broadcast service available, and this starts by protecting the personal information of both admins and followers. As a channel admin, your phone number and profile photo won’t be shown to followers. Likewise, following a channel won’t reveal your phone number to other followers or the admin, unless the admin already has you saved in their contacts. The Channels you decide to follow are your choice and it’s private.
We’re also prioritizing privacy control for admins so they can choose to block screenshots and forwarding of messages from their channel, define who is eligible to follow their channel and decide whether or not they want it to be discoverable in the directory. Another important aspect we focus on is channel history. We don’t believe Channel updates should have to stick around forever, so we’ll only store channel history on our servers for up to 30 days and we’ll add ways to make updates disappear even faster from follower’s devices.
In terms of encryption, Channels are not end-to-end encrypted by default as their main aim is to reach a wide audience. However, we do think there are some cases where end-to-end encrypted channels to a limited audience might make sense, such as a non-profit or health organization, and we’re exploring this as a future option as well.
WhatsApp will continue to build support for Channel owners and followers and, as always, we will continue to listen closely to feedback from users about how we can help people get the information they want – privately, safely, and securely.
In what ways is this feature going to further empower the creator economy of the Middle East?
The creator economy is a rapidly growing industry in the Middle East with more and more people turning to content creation as a viable career path. By giving our users access to more diverse tools and communication channels, we are aiming to amplify the amazing ways creators reach their communities.
WhatsApp Channels is certainly a different way to share updates compared to our other platforms. Channels will give creators new format ideas and access to different and much wider audiences than other platforms. Over 2 billion people use WhatsApp globally - opening vast opportunities for growth.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach for creators to grow their following, so for some, WhatsApp Channels might be just the right platform that resonates with their community. This can be especially useful for micro-communities with niche interests and specific needs. We’ve seen a rise in these types of hyperlocal communities after the pandemic, and WhatsApp Channels can be a potent tool for driving engagement and fostering meaningful connections with such groups.
For example, Adel Al-Adwani, a travel content creator known as @ibnfatota, created his own WhatsApp Channel, leading the way in connecting with his community and sharing his travel adventures, recommendations, and tips, one update at a time.
Will there be a way for creators to use this feature to monetize from this platform?
At this stage, we are still exploring various ideas. We do believe there is an opportunity to support creators running their Channels with a new way to build a business around their updates – for example, with the expansion of our payment services, the ability to highlight certain Channels in the directory or charge a fee for their channel, like a subscription. Channel admins may also want to partner directly with brands for their channels and we could build tools to help them. There are a number of ways we could do this without impacting the privacy and security of people’s personal messages. It’s still early for us and we’ll share more information in the future.
What was the true insight behind WhatsApp channels? What objective inspired the launch?
Building channels is a big step our users have asked us for years, and now, our users have a private way to receive important updates from people and organizations, right within WhatsApp.
Our key insight was that people desired prompt and convenient access to information that matters to them, all in one place. Currently, people often rely on multiple apps to stay informed about the things they are interested in - whether this be their favorite sports team, weather, updates from local officials, regular exercise routine, or local traffic updates. With Channels, this information will be accessible to WhatsApp users in one convenient location within the WhatsApp app. We expect, however, that the core of how people use WhatsApp will continue to be private messaging among friends, family, and communities.
How has the region been responding to this new feature?
We’re excited by the positive feedback we received from our launch in the MENA region. Businesses, government entities, and media outlets have already activated Channels to expand their reach. We’ve seen major outlets like The National, Asharq News, Dubai TV, Al Bayan, Hia Magazine and many more create their channels, which users can find in the open directory.
We anticipate a surge in the adoption of this feature in the forthcoming weeks driven by increasing usage across the region - particularly in countries like UAE and KSA - which have the highest degree of digitization in the region.