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Article: WhatsApp in emerging markets. What does it mean for market research?

Rachel Howard, May 2019

Whatsapp image resize WhatsApp, the messaging platform bought out by Facebook back in 2014, offers free, encrypted, international communication between both groups and individuals. While its penetration varies across the globe, one of the regions in which it has become most popular is Latin America, where the cost of SMS messaging is especially high.

WhatsApp is so popular in LATAM it has almost become a social media platform. Local businesses and even government agencies are using it as a way of communicating with their customers, taking advantage of higher open rates than on Facebook or email. HCPs, pharmacists and patients are all using it to communicate with each other, with evidence of physicians employing it to share clinical data (despite privacy concerns). Pharma, too, is waking up to the potential of the platform for HCP and patient engagement.

What does WhatsApp’s regional ubiquity mean for us as healthcare market researchers?
WhatsApp is now rolling out a new business platform designed to help organisations structure and engage in conversations on a greater, more systematic scale than ever before. So, we have developed a formal best-practice approach for using WhatsApp to connect with our market research respondents.

Recruiters have been scheduling interviews with respondents using text messages (on various platforms) for years, but the functionality WhatsApp offers enables us to do much more than
that from a market research perspective: voice and video calls; group chats; voice notes; photo and video sharing; annotating content. As with telephone and online before, we are adapting our methodologies to suit our respondents’ communications needs. WhatsApp is already so widely used that it doesn’t need to be freshly downloaded or explained to the target audience; it seamlessly fits
into their lives. There is lots of potential to collect rapid-turnaround, increasingly sophisticated feedback from large groups of healthcare stakeholders who are already comfortable using it in their personal life, especially as new features are added.

Of course, it’s not suited to every study. It is no substitute for higher functionality online platforms designed specifically for  more complex market research projects. It can’t (yet) give us any quantitative data; there’s not even a basic polling feature. We still need to pay particular attention
to sampling bias and accessibility if we are dealing with older age groups. It can’t guarantee a respondent’s undivided attention; the depth of communication it offers does not replace the value we can get from in-person interactions. Issues relating to data security and compliance
need to be carefully considered before plunging in to any study. While encrypted, it doesn’t provide a secure way to share confidential stimulus. Effective moderation, from probing to laddering,
remains as essential as in any qualitative research environment – a high level of planning and approval is still required.

Despite its limitations, however, when agility is key, WhatsApp offers us a great – if not perfect – opportunity to have quick, exploratory, multi-media conversations with both HCPs, key healthcare stakeholders and patients

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