How to use WhatsApp at work

There is no shortage of messaging systems out there, but WhatsApp claims that more than 1 billion people in over 180 countries use it, so it’s certainly a useful tool for professional communicators. Here PR professionals suggest eight ways to use it at work.

1.     To set up client groups

Rich Leigh, founder at agency Radioactive PR: “At Radioactive PR we use WhatsApp to set up client groups, which we use on our phones and desktops. We started doing it roughly four years ago, and never have any complaints about communication.

“For each client we have everyone who works on that account in the group on both sides – so everyone knows what’s happening and when, whether they’re in the office, at home or out and about.

“Using WhatsApp for clients is so quick and easy. Clients know if we’ve seen messages, we know if they have; it keeps things responsive and transparent and does away with the weird formality that crept into emails. In the nicest way, neither party cared about niceties if you’re just after a quick answer.

“We use it to share documents on Google Drive for approval and updates about each campaign we’re working on, for example.

“Given an agency and client relationship is all about clear and concise communication (and of course, results!) we find that WhatsApp is so effective. Rather than working for, we work with each of our clients and the tool is perfect for facilitating collaboration – much more so than email.

“The only possible pitfall of WhatsApp is that if people have one phone, and use WhatsApp for work, it’s likely they use it for their personal life too. Though the benefits outweigh the negatives and having work communication in a centralised place will make sure people are more likely to see important messages. I’d recommend using it how we do to any agency.”

2.     To speak to specific industries
Laura Mashiter, MD at agency Refresh PR: “As an agency we use WhatsApp to speak to both groups of people and to those who we know are perhaps more familiar with it than, say, email. As an example, we use it widely to specifically engage plumbers and heating installers who participate in the Heating Installer Awards, an industry awards scheme owned and run by Refresh PR.

“WhatsApp is well suited for this purpose as plumbers and heating engineers are typically out on site; they aren’t sitting behind a computer with the ability to easily manage, and respond, to emails. As such a short message on WhatsApp is far more likely to elicit a response than other forms of communication.

“As tradespeople often take photos of their work on their phones, WhatsApp is perhaps the easiest – and most cost-effective – way of getting these photos to us too, allowing us to shout about their work with minimal effort on their part.

“Furthermore, it’s a platform that the target audience uses daily as part of their jobs (and social life), so we know it is convenient for them. It’s also easy to see who has read the message and not replied – perhaps indicating that now’s not a good time to chase them for information! This enables us to tailor how, and when, we communicate with them to maximise engagement.

“The key to utilising WhatsApp is to keep the message short, succinct and friendly. After all it is a messaging app and recipients don’t expect the formality of an email. In this respect it is no different to any other platform or channel; the fundamentals of knowing your audience and their expectations and adapting your communication with them accordingly, remain the same.”

3. To keep it secure in-house
Richard Scarlett, partner at PR agency Finn Partners: “While its standard end-to-end encryption makes WhatsApp a relatively secure platform – particularly when compared to Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat – there must be a balance when it comes to using it for work purposes. As with anything, the nature of the information being shared should be considered – and that process will usually dictate the most appropriate means of communication. With that, we see nothing to worry about when using WhatsApp to coordinate staff days off, event team logistics or other general internal issues, but would be wary about using it for external client communication. This is not just a security issue, but also about appearing as professional as possible, at all times. In that respect email is always our first port of call.”

4. For team building and sharing
Lisa Kingsnorth, director at agency Ace Media: “With offices in different regions of the country, WhatsApp has become integral to internal communication. “Operating a digital PR SaaS, means that communication channels need to be open at all times and WhatsApp delivers the accessibility required, with apps that work across multiple devices and operating systems. “WhatsApp allows dialogue to flow instantly and continually between team members and it can competently support both voice and text based comms, whilst allowing us to share large documents, all without financial outlay.   “What’s also appealing are the settings available. We frequently utilise the ‘groups’ option for communication between specific teams. The ability to ‘mute' notifications can also be useful when you need downtime. “For me WhatsApp is a work-only communications application, I did make the mistake once of connecting with my daughter’s school PTA and was bombarded with hourly updates of lost PE kit, fun days and coffee mornings. Unfortunately the ‘mute’ option in this case was not enough.

“The drawback to WhatsApp is you can quickly find that you are hosting multiple chats at any one time and it can become very easy to misdirect a message (another good reason to keep it strictly business)!”

5. For trade shows
Sian Gaskell, founder and managing director of PR agency CubanEight: “We used WhatsApp effectively with a client in the run up to, and during a big trade show (MWC) this year. There were a number of agencies involved at the show – stand builders, social, PR, brand – and as part of the synchronisation of comms the head of brand set up a WhatsApp group so that we could easily contact each other and them. It was really useful when we were at the show itself because at busy times on the stand, if a prospect or journalist dropped by, you could quickly get hold of the right person via the group. Essential when a Spanish speaking TV station dropped by and the only Spanish speaking spokesperson was on the other side of the Hall. It also avoided complexity in having to use multiple channels and checking email, text, VMs etc, so it made the whole comms experience around the event a lot smoother.”

6. For instant engagement
Joe Fernandez, communications manager at recruitment specialist Oleeo: “I encourage colleagues to use WhatsApp when out and about in events to send over photography and videos that we can harness on social media and real-time email alerts to audiences who will be interested in topics we explore on speakers bureau opportunities. It enables us to react in real-time as opposed to waiting for emails to come through and start a communication late on in the process/missing out on hashtag buzz opportunities! Aside from that, we don't tend to use it internally relying more on business tools such as Slack to help maintain the divide between personal and professional styles.”

7. For new business pitches
Sophie Newman, business development manager at PR agency TALK.GLOBAL: “When it comes to new business pitching, it’s incredibly important to drive momentum and excitement amongst the team involved. That’s why one of the first new business ports of call here is to create a WhatsApp group that includes every member of the pitching team involved. In an office environment where the majority is millennial and using WhatsApp all day every day, outside of work (and sometimes in work!), it just makes sense. Keeping our fingers on the pulse is much easier this way. It allows everyone to share, bringing their ideas to the table, and ultimately, making the team feel even more cohesive – crucial when selling ideas and yourselves to a client.”

8. To react quickly to news
Holly Pither, MD and founder of agency Tribe PR: “Being in PR, we regularly need to move quickly on a news story. That’s why WhatsApp is so good; I can get a comment drafted and approved in the space of minutes no matter where I am or where my clients are. In short, I can do my job anywhere at any time. It’s also been incredibly important for me personally too – as a small business owner, you need your tribe of people around you. I regularly speak to my partner agencies and freelancers on WhatsApp. Creating a conversation with other entrepreneurial minds helps me to refine my ideas, inspire creativity and means I never feel isolated. This is essential as a business owner.”

You may choose not to use WhatsApp outside of work (although it can be hard to avoid), but in a PR office being connected is not a choice, it is a necessity.