Last month the Philippine consulate in Dubai decided to make itself available on WhatsApp.The United Arab Emirates’ 679,819 Filipino expats are big chatters and there had been complaints the consulate didn’t always pick up the phone.Sounds like they’re having second thoughts.

Tagalog, you’re it 😁

The Gulf News reports the consulate received more than 1,000 inquiries in its first week on WhatsApp, in addition to the 100 to 120 daily messages it gets through Facebook.

This proved to be a heavy load for the consulate's small staff, prompting the Consul-General, Paul Raymund Cortes, to divert people to more traditional channels:

While they are happy to answer queries, Cortes said the public may also save time by checking their website and official Facebook page directly so the WhatsApp service can be used for more pressing concerns.

Ready for the flood 🛶

The consulate’s first-week WhatsApp experience is a microcosm of what brands can expect when they connect to the world’s most popular messaging channel.

This week Facebook began rolling out the WhatsApp Business app on iOs. The app, which has been available on Android since last year, allows small businesses — and, presumably, small consulates —  to communicate with WhatsApp users from a free app they download from the Google Play or Apple app store.

Don’t confuse the WhatsApp Business app with the WhatsApp Business API. That’s a more complex integration that enables large businesses to engage customers on the channel using their existing enterprise software.

WhatsApp’s API is still in early access, along with Apple and Google’s competing business chat platforms. But people around the world are already betting the farm on messaging.

Gaining traction 🚜

Kenyan farmers are using WhatsApp to grow healthier kale, according to Business Daily, and they’re “laughing all the way to the bank.”

The small-scale farmers have come to rely on private WhatsApp groups to share best practices and consult with agronomists responsible for approving their crops for export.

As a result, farmers have boosted their earnings by as much as 500%.

Back in the U.S., where WhatsApp is less dominant and many still rely on good old SMS, some jurisdictions are using text messages to help keep citizens out of jail, reports Law360.

Frustrated that 41% of people summoned for low-level crimes skipped court, New York City brought in researchers who found messaging helped lower failure to appear rates by 26%.

The human factor 🤗

People miss their court appearances for all sorts of reasons. Some can’t find childcare or afford to miss work. Others simply forget.

The text messages remind defendants of their dates and warn them of the consequences of skipping, which can include jail time.

But messages offer more than just a reminder. They’re a doorway to a conversation that might not have happened otherwise, and can add “a bit of humanity to the grind of the criminal justice system,” as one public defender put it:

“A lot of thank-yous go on… And this isn’t a business that necessarily generates a lot of thank-yous.”

Instagram Checks Out Conversational Commerce

Hot off the heels of Mark Zuckerberg’s big private messaging pivot, Facebook’s other other messaging app is making moves in the retail space.

Last week Instagram beta-launched a new feature that lets people shop and complete payment — hence the name “Checkout” — without leaving the comfort of the app.

Typically, users need to click a link on a brand’s Instagram profile or story to complete the purchase on a third-party site.

Why am I telling you this?🤔

By now you know Facebook plans to unify the underlying infrastructure of its three popular chat apps — Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram – so users can message each other across the three channels.

Meanwhile, Instagram is widely expected to introduce business messaging through a WhatsApp-like API.

All this supports speculation that Zuckerberg is modelling the future of Facebook on WeChat. The Tencent-owned platform dominates the digital landscape in China thanks to a built-in payment system that allows users to order pretty much anything without leaving the chat window.

With Checkout, Instagram will charge a “small fee” to brands selling through the platform, which include retail giants like Burberry, H&M and Zara. As Digiday notes:

The new beta marks a significant evolution for a brand that began as a photo-sharing app with an ad-supported revenue model.

What seems like a small step for Instagram may prove to be a giant leap for conversational commerce.

This is an excerpt from The Message, Smooch’s biweekly newsletter about the messaging industry, chatbots and conversational commerce. Subscribe to get the next edition delivered straight to your inbox.