The personal messaging app showdown: WhatsApp vs. Facebook Messenger

Customer Service
31 July, 2016
Written by
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More and more companies are jumping on the latest innovation in customer service: personal messaging apps. These apps are being used daily by billions of people. And companies want to jump in on this trend to serve their customers better.

The two apps that are getting the most attention from companies are Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. But are both messaging apps suited for your business or is there a clear winner? And more importantly, what exactly is the difference between the two?

Let’s dig into the details to figure out which one you should take advantage of.

Battle #1: It’s all about the users

With a reach of more than a billion users, both apps offer the easiest solution for companies to reach the majority of their customers. Looking at the research of WeAreSocial, you quickly see that they’re indeed far ahead of the game.


For a long time, WhatsApp has been winning in terms of the number of users. But the number of users for FB Messenger has grown by more than 300% in 2015 and is quickly gaining ground. Since July 2016, FB Messenger has also reached a Billion users, a milestone WhatsApp reached 6 months earlier.

While WhatsApp is still slightly ahead, predictions are that Facebook will outgrow WhatsApp very soon. A survey from onDevice even shows that FB Messenger has already regained its position as the most popular messaging app.

Battle #2: The geographical spread

With cultural and language differences, it’s no surprise that the most popular messaging apps differ for different countries. But in general, we see three patterns so far:

Western countries: The battle in this area is clearly on between FB Messenger and WhatsApp. In North America, Australia and the majority of European countries, we see that FB Messenger has taken over the lead. In the other countries, the split is reversed. But generally, they're head-to-head.

South America, Middle East & Africa: As opposed to Western countries, WhatsApp is still the strongest here. But make no mistake, FB Messenger is also gaining ground fast. For example, in the Middle East, WhatsApp and FB Messenger are being used almost to the same extent.

Asia: Asia is a bit of an exception in that there are a lot of local messaging apps (like WeChat, KakaoTalk and Zalo). That means that WhatsApp and FB Messenger are being used to a lesser extent.

In short: find out where the majority of your customers are from. If you focus more on Western countries, FB Messenger should probably be your preferred channel.

Battle #3: The demographics

Not only do different countries use different messengers, different age groups typically tend to use different platforms too. But looking at the profile of WhatsApp vs. FB Messenger users, GlobalWebIndex has found that they’re virtually the same for these two apps:


Battle #4: Future-proof or not?

Personal messaging is growing fast. Research by Series-A Partners found that by 2018 more than 2.5 billion people will use messaging apps. That is more than a billion extra users compared to today. So imagine the opportunity these channels will bring.

Not only the number of users is what makes personal messaging promising, the mobile and convenience aspects of it are going to change the business landscape. Just have a look at China’s WeChat. This personal messaging app goes a lot further than sending texts, videos, images, etc. They’ve actually built a complete ecommerce platform that people use to do transactions with, like booking a table at a restaurant, making an appointment with the government for a passport renewal, pay utility bills, etc.

Now if you look at FB Messenger, you see that they’re slowly emulating this model. From already being able to order an Uber and checking your flight status with KLM, it’s clear that you’ll soon be able to use FB Messenger in a similar way as WeChat. On the other hand, WhatsApp is not (yet) moving in that direction. There have been announcements that WhatsApp is working on an API that will allow businesses to communicate with customers. But so far, it doesn’t seem like it will be go as far as WeChat or FB Messenger in their commerce capabilities.

Battle #5: The size of your support team

With only one person resolving questions, WhatsApp and Facebook behave pretty much in a similar fashion. Their native applications get the job done perfectly. But as soon as you want more out of the messaging apps, a difference between the two quickly becomes apparent.

If you, for example, want to have multiple colleagues interact with customers on the platform, the native applications become less convenient (if not unworkable). So you’ll want to connect these channels to a third party customer support tool that allows different agents to resolve questions. But without an API, that isn’t possible. And so far, FB Messenger is the only one that supports an official API.

Yes, a WhatsApp API is coming at some point. But don’t expect it to be available before the beginning of 2017. And yes, there are a few support tools that offer a WhatsApp integration. But because of a lack of an official API, this is a less reliable solution. After all, WhatsApp can change anything at any time. And the solution that you’ve connected to WhatApp might experience some downtown. Not the ideal situation for your customers.

Therefore, if you require reliability, FB Messenger becomes your only real option at the moment.

Battle #6: The ease for the customer

Although both messengers are very convenient and easy channels for customers, there is another difference that puts FB Messenger at a small advantage. Before your customer can reach you on WhatsApp, she needs to add your number to her contact list on her phone. Although a small step, it’s still more effort compared to FB Messenger.

With FB, the friction is a little lower. They can just reach out to you by using the search function in the app. Or you can add a button to your website and a customer can almost instantly start chatting with you. (Very similar to the mechanism of live chat on your website.) Because of this tiny advantage in the ease of use, FB Messenger wins this battle.

And the winner is... As you can see, FB Messenger has a few (small) advantages over WhatsApp. But the biggest advantage that would shift the victory to FB’s camp for your customer support is the reliability of their API. For bigger teams and bigger companies using a messenger as a support channel, reliability is key after all.

However, if you’re just going to have one agent resolving questions, then either messaging app will do. Both have a huge audience. So weigh the pro’s and con’s of the geographical spread and the possibilities for the future to make your pick. You can’t really go wrong.

For you, from the writer:


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