If your group chats just aren’t cutting it any more, WhatsApp is now letting people sign up for direct updates from celebrities, sports teams and brands.
The Twitter-like ability to effectively follow accounts on the private messaging platform was announced in June.
Dubbed “channels”, the launch was initially limited to a few countries, but its global rollout has now begun.
WhatsApp owner Meta said there were thousands of organisations, sports teams, artists, and other recognisable brands and personalities for people to follow.
Among them are music stars Olivia Rodrigo and David Guetta, football clubs Manchester City and Liverpool, and Meta’s chief executive Mark Zuckerberg.
Channels launch in the UK today. Pic: Meta
How do channels work?
Channels are separate from chats within WhatsApp, and behave similarly to news feeds on other social platforms.
Posts from channels can include text, photos, videos, and polls, and will appear in the new updates tab alongside status updates that people can already post for their contacts to see.
When you tap into an update on your feed, channels will look much like a normal WhatsApp chat – but you will only have the option to respond to posts with emoji reactions rather than message back.
Users can search for accounts they might like to follow, and channel owners will also be able to invite people to join using direct links.
Meta has described channels as a “private broadcast service”, as owners and their followers both have their phone number and profile photo hidden from view.
Channels can also opt out of being findable via search, and posts are automatically deleted after 30 days.
Not everyone can make a channel, but Meta said it would make this possible in the coming months.
The feature is baked into WhatsApp with your chats. Pic: Meta
‘Challenging’ for WhatsApp to change
It comes just a few months after the company launched Threads, a more egregious Twitter clone which surged to more than 100 million users faster than any app in history.
Adoption and engagement on the platform has slowed massively since, despite the addition of much-demanded features like searching for topics and a web client.
James Hacking, of social media marketing agency Socially Powerful, told Sky News Meta may struggle to convince people that WhatsApp should be anything other than a private messaging platform.
“WhatsApp has an unbelievable amount of user attention but most don’t consider it a social media app,” he said.
“Whenever they have tried to pivot to something else, like status updates, it’s been challenging. I’ve never seen my contacts use them even though it takes up a lot of space on the navigation bar.
“But there is a ready-made user base there – it’s down to the integration.”
Why are so many apps trying to look the same?
Ellie Byrne, founder of the Truffle Social agency, was also apprehensive about WhatsApp diversifying its feature set.
“Meta runs the risk of muddying its product,” she told Sky News.
“The introduction of Channels turns WhatsApp from being a simple chat platform for interpersonal and private conversations into a social media broadcasting platform.
“WhatsApp is now attempting to become a little more like X (Twitter) and Threads and less like itself.”