Have you been thinking about using WhatsApp API for business but you’re not sure what it is or how it works? This ultimate guide to WhatsApp Business API answers all your questions. We'll cover what is WhatsApp API, as well as how to create a WhatsApp API account, manage contacts and send WhatsApp API messages according to best practices.
WhatsApp Business API: The Basics
WhatsApp API is designed for medium to large companies that want to use WhatsApp with multiple users. It is more complex than other WhatsApp products like WhatsApp Business App. For instance, WhatsApp API has no app or front-end interface and needs to be integrated into a business software.
WhatsApp is particular with who it allows connecting to their API directly. Businesses wanting to connect to WhatsApp API are encouraged to use third-party services called Business Solution Providers.
WhatsApp API: Business Solution Providers
WhatsApp is particular about which companies it grants direct API connections. For most companies, the only way to connect to WhatsApp API is through Business Solution Providers (BSPs).
Your experience with WhatsApp API may differ radically depending on your BSP. To simplify things, there are two types of WhatsApp BSPs - SMS providers and others.
SMS providers like Twilio and Vonage integrate WhatsApp API with their proprietary API. Therefore, it takes more time and effort on their end to include or update any new features from WhatsApp.
As for the other groups that do not identify as SMS providers, they likely use proxy APIs which are similar to WhatsApp’s infrastructure. So, it is quick and easy for them to enable new WhatsApp Business API features. Next, let’s look at the different ways to host a WhatsApp API account.
WhatsApp API: Hosting Options
Previously, the only way to host WhatsApp API was through an On-Premises API on the BSP’s own servers. From 2022, BSPs will offer Cloud API, where the API will be hosted on Meta (formerly Facebook). Cloud API is currently only available in beta to selected BSPs.
Businesses that are using a BSP with Cloud API access will have all the latest WhatsApp API features. By contrast, those using On-Premises APIs will not be able to access new WhatsApp API features until their BSPs perform API software upgrades manually.
WhatsApp API: Pricing
To recap, you have to sign up with a BSP to get a WhatsApp API account. As the middlemen, BSPs pay WhatsApp to connect to their API so they can provide the service to end-users. BSPs pass these charges on to businesses, sometimes with a markup to make a profit.
Under the notification-based pricing model, many BSPs charge companies on a per-message basis. But starting Feb 1, 2022, WhatsApp will switch to a conversation-based pricing model, in which businesses are charged per conversation. Now, take a closer look at each component that makes up a WhatsApp API account.
WhatsApp Business API: Components
This section provides an overview of WhatsApp API components, including WhatsApp Business Profile and phone number.
WhatsApp API for Business: Business Profile
A WhatsApp API Business Profile provides customers with more information about your business. Businesses can optimize their business profiles by updating their cover photo, description, address, email and website.
Unlike other messaging apps, the WhatsApp API Business profile will not be searchable in the app. In the next section, let’s discuss how a WhatsApp API phone number works.
WhatsApp API for Business: Phone Number
A phone number needs to be associated with your WhatsApp API account. Depending on your BSP, you can buy a phone number or port an existing one. Remember, the phone number tied to WhatsApp API needs to be able to receive calls or SMS.
We recommend using a phone number that’s not in use for another App account. Phone number migration from the App to API is possible, but going back from the API to App is not recommended as you'll lose account information associated with the phone number.
A phone number lives under a WABA, which is managed through Facebook Business Manager. Facebook Business Manager is also where you manage other Facebook assets. Each WABA can have up to 25 numbers, depending on the phone number tier.
Phone Number Tiers and Messaging Limits
The phone number tier of your WhatsApp API account will determine your messaging limit - the number of Contacts an account can message. There are five tiers a phone number inside a WABA can reach, including:
- Unverified Trial Tier: Send messages to 50 unique Contacts in a rolling 24-hour period & have up to 2 numbers
- Tier 1: Send messages to 1K unique Contacts in a rolling 24-hour period & have up to 25 numbers
- Tier 2: Send messages to 10K unique Contacts in a rolling 24-hour period
- Tier 3: Send messages to 100K unique Contacts in a rolling 24-hour period
- Tier 4: Send messages to unlimited unique Contacts in a rolling 24-hour period
Please note that the messaging limits only apply to business-initiated messages called Message Templates, which we will discuss in detail later. Depending on the BSP, businesses will either start at the Unverified Trial Tier or Tier 1 upon registering their phone number.
To upgrade from the Unverified Trial Tier to the next tier, you will need to verify your Facebook Business Account. As for businesses in Tiers 1, 2 and 3, they will be upgraded to the next tier when they reach the messaging limit of their current tier, provided that they have a good quality rating and a non-Flagged status.
Phone Number Quality Rating and Status
Phone number quality rating and status indicate customer satisfaction with your business' conversation quality. You can find these quality insights in the Facebook Business Manager.
The quality rating is determined by a combination of factors. This includes the number of blocks by customers, the frequency of outbound messages such as notifications or promotional messages and the response time. There are three quality ratings:
- High (green)
- Medium (yellow)
- Low (red)
To ensure a good quality rating, avoid getting your phone number blocked by sending only high-quality messages that are relevant to your Contacts. When blocked, your phone number quality rating will drop from High to Medium or Low.
A change in quality rating may affect your phone number status. There are five statuses in total:
- Pending: The status before the Commerce Policy check is complete
- Offline: The status when businesses fail the Commerce policy check or cancel their WhatsApp API Account
- Connected: The default status
- Flagged: The status when the quality rating reaches Low. If it improves to Medium or High in 7 days, the status will return to Connected. If it does not, WhatsApp will reinstate your status to Connected but impose a lower messaging limit on your number.
- Restricted: The status when businesses reach their messaging limit while having a poor quality rating
You can subscribe to receive notifications when there is a change in your Phone Number Status from Connected to Flagged and vice versa, or an upgrade or downgrade to your number’s messaging tier.
Now that you understand the different WhatsApp API components, let's find out how you can get a WhatsApp API account.
Creating a WhatsApp API Account
The Classic Signup method involves a tedious Facebook Business verification process. By contrast, 360dialog Express Signup lets you create a WhatsApp API account in under 10 minutes without Facebook Business verification, giving you instant access to start testing WhatsApp API.
On top of verifying your Facebook Business Account, businesses also have the option to verify their WhatsApp API account. Remember, all WhatsApp Business API features are available and ready to use even if your account is not verified.
Verifying a WhatsApp API Account
A verified WhatsApp API account adds credibility to your business and is more recognizable with a visible business name in the profile. You can request WhatsApp API verification directly on Facebook Business Manager or through your selected BSPs.
To get your API account verified, you need to fulfill WhatsApp’s requirements. This includes following WhatsApp's Commerce and Business Policies and being a notable business. WhatsApp generally only verifies well-known brands like Nike and Coca-Cola.
Once you have your WhatsApp API account, integrate it into a WhatsApp CRM like respond.io to send and receive messages. Read on to learn how to use WhatsApp API to send a message.
WhatsApp Business API: Messaging
In this section, we will walk you through the two types of messages allowed on WhatsApp API - Session Messages and Message Templates.
WhatsApp API Business: Session Messaging
WhatsApp doesn’t allow businesses using WhatsApp API to send messages anytime they want. To prevent spam and ensure businesses reply to incoming messages quickly, WhatsApp imposes a messaging limitation called Session Messaging.
Session Messaging allows you to reply to contacts’ messages within a 24-hour window. Once the 24-hour window closes, you can no longer send Session Messages. There is no need for any prior approval before sending a Session Message, provided that it abides by WhatsApp Business Policy and WhatsApp Commerce Policy.
Now that you understand how Session Messaging works, let’s go over the different types of Interactive Session Messages.
WhatsApp API Session Messaging: Interactive Session Messages
In addition to the usual text Session Message, you can send Interactive Session Messages using WhatsApp API. With a user-friendly format, Interactive Session Messages offer customers a simpler way to find and select what they want from your business.
There are four types of Interactive Session Messages. This includes List Messages, Reply Buttons, Single Product and Multi-Product Messages. Single and Multi-Product Messages are great for sending a Catalog to customers.
To further improve the overall customer experience with businesses, WhatsApp has introduced a new policy to include a human agent pathway within a chat.
WhatsApp API Session Messaging: Human Escalation Pathway
Customers dislike chatting with bots especially if they have an issue that needs to be sorted out with a human agent. WhatsApp has finally acknowledged this pain point and made it compulsory for a WhatsApp human escalation pathway.
Some acceptable escalation methods include human agent handoff, phone number, email, web support form and in-store visit prompts. Be aware that indirect channels such as social media, a help center webpage or a link to an app do not meet this requirement.
Without a human escalation pathway, your phone number quality rating may become Low (red) and your phone number status will turn to Flagged. You’ll receive the warning via an update from your Facebook Business Manager and through your registered email.
If this remains unresolved in 7 days, WhatsApp will restrict your messaging limit. Businesses sending under 1,000 notifications a week will not see an immediate impact. But to increase the messaging limit in the future, you’ll have to resolve this issue first.
And that’s everything you need to know about Session Messaging. Next, let’s find out how Template Messaging works.
WhatsApp API for Business: Template Messaging
After 24 hours from the contact’s last incoming message, businesses are only allowed to reply with Message Templates. Message Templates are pre-approved messages used to reopen the 24-hour Messaging Window or start a new conversation.
In addition to the standard Message Templates, WhatsApp API also supports Multimedia and Interactive Message Templates. The former supports images, videos or PDF documents, while the latter lets you attach call-to-action or quick reply buttons.
There are two main methods to create a WhatsApp Message Template - from the BSP’s Console or via respond.io. Remember, WhatsApp may reject submitted Message Templates for different reasons. Check out these best practices to improve the chance of having your submission approved.
Previously, businesses were not allowed to send Message Templates with non-transactional content. However, WhatsApp has enabled non-transactional Message Templates globally since September 2021.
That said, you should avoid sending Message Templates too frequently or customers might mark them as spam. This can affect your Template quality rating and status.
WhatsApp API Template Messaging: Message Template Quality Rating and Status
Not to be confused with phone number quality rating, the Message Template quality rating shows how Message Templates have been received by your customers in a rolling window of the past 24 hours. You can view your Template quality rating and status in the Facebook Business Manager.
Message Template quality rating has three quality states:
- High (green)
- Medium (yellow)
- Low (red)
A drop in the quality rating of a Message Template can affect its status. There are five statuses for Message Templates:
- Pending: When a business first submits a template that is yet to be approved
- Approved: When the Message Template is approved
- Rejected: When Message Template is rejected
- Flagged: When the quality rating reaches a Low state
- Disabled: When a Message Template enters the Flagged status and its quality rating does not improve within 7 days, its status will switch to Disabled. You cannot send or edit a Disabled Message Template.
When your Template status changes to Flagged or Disabled, you will receive an email notification. To prevent having your Message Template disabled, make sure you only send Message Templates to customers who have opted in.
WhatsApp API Template Messaging: Opt-ins
To maintain the quality of customer experience, WhatsApp requires businesses to obtain opt-ins from customers prior to starting a chat with Message Templates.
Opt-ins can be obtained both on and off WhatsApp. Think interactive voice response (IVR), website forms, WhatsApp Ads, WhatsApp links, WhatsApp QR codes or through WhatsApp threads (customer-initiated messages).
For contacts to opt-in, they must first see the value of doing so. It’s best to ask for opt-ins at the right time and right place. For instance, get their opt-ins to receive new updates when they sign up for an account on your platform. Now that you know how opt-in works, let’s talk about managing contacts.
WhatsApp API Template Messaging: Contact Management
In this section, we’ll discuss the various aspects of contact management on WhatsApp API. This includes verifying and importing contacts to a WhatsApp CRM, as well as managing contacts’ identities through User Identity Notifications.
Verifying and Importing Contacts
Before importing contacts, you will need to verify if your contacts have a valid WhatsApp number. Verifying contacts is important because sending messages to WhatsApp numbers that don’t exist will lower your quality rating.
Here’s what to watch out for: WhatsApp will ban API account users who verify too many phone numbers without sending messages to them. This is likely to avoid spammers on the platform.
Contacts are not stored on WhatsApp API. After verifying your contacts, you can import them to a WhatsApp CRM. While WhatsApp documentation does not comprehensively explain contact imports, we’ve covered how to do so in this article.
Sometimes, a contact's phone number might change hands. Businesses would not be aware of the change of number ownership unless they opt to receive User Identity Notifications.
User Identity Notifications
User Identity Notifications ensure that businesses are communicating with the right Contact. Upon opting into these notifications, businesses will receive alerts when they receive messages from a re-registered number under a new user.
Unless businesses acknowledge the re-registration, they are unable to message these numbers. This protects both businesses and customers from leaking sensitive information over WhatsApp. Plus, User Identity Notifications prevent businesses from getting flagged for spam lest they message someone who did not opt-in.
You’ve made it to the end! Now that you have learned everything you need to know about WhatsApp API, get ready to apply your newfound knowledge and take your business to the next level with WhatsApp API.
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