Why are Online Communities Leaving WhatsApp and What are the Alternatives?

Why are Online Communities Leaving WhatsApp and What are the Alternatives?

7 min read

As one of the first platforms to offer end-to-end encryption, WhatsApp quickly established itself as a leading messaging application more than a decade ago. Along with Facebook, it swiftly became a convenient place to host online communities, thanks to its group messaging features.

 

However, with recent changes in its privacy policy and its limited set of features, Community Managers are opting to move their online communities to one of the many WhatsApp alternatives. In this article, we’ve taken some time to look into the possible drawbacks of WhatsApp as a community platform and to suggest some of the best alternatives to WhatsApp for your community. 

Why are Online Communities Leaving WhatsApp?

When we look at the first messaging apps and social media platforms, we can see that they struggle to keep up with the demands of modern community builders. We’ve already talked about why we’d avoid using Facebook to host an online community and suggested some great alternatives we’d recommend using instead.

 

Let’s have a look at why WhatsApp could be limiting your online community’s potential. 

1. Data Privacy

WhatsApp has recently caused a stir amongst its users due to a change in its privacy policy that impacts how much information the company will share with third parties. That’s despite its promise to refrain from selling its users’ data in exchange for a $0.99 fee when it first launched. 

 

While this change in its privacy policy won’t affect your private conversations, which remain encrypted, WhatsApp can share the information it has about you as described in the “Information We Collect” section in its privacy policy with third parties.

 

This could include your name, location, and phone number, as well as metadata like how often you’re interacting with certain business accounts, the type of device you use, and how long you spend in the app. 

 

While these changes to WhatsApp’s privacy policy may not impact online communities directly, it has prompted many users to move away from the platform itself. 

2. Personalized Adverts

Until now, WhatsApp has remained a relatively ad-free environment, but with the announcement of a change in its privacy policy also came a new future addition to the application: targeted advertisements.

 

It’s not entirely clear how these will appear, but it is predicted the ads could range from a simple pop-up banner at the top of the screen to a full-page overlay that completely interrupts your messaging experience.

 

It is also believed that these could appear in a new feature called WhatsApp Statuses, which will provide a similar experience to Instagram stories. 

 

There are several reasons why ads can be detrimental to the success of an online community. They are designed to work as a distraction tactic, weakening the engagement levels and even encouraging members to leave the community to follow a promoted link.

 

Advert-free environments encourage members to devote their full attention to the community, thus ensuring community engagement remains uninterrupted. 

3. Limited Features

WhatsApp has never claimed to be anything other than a messaging platform that supports texting, voice, and video calls. While it can be useful in the initial stages of building a community, its limiting features can make it ineffective for growing and scaling your online community. 

 

A 256 member cap, minimal customization options, and a soon-to-be ad-filled experience are just some of the constraints a Community Manager could face while using WhatsApp for community management.

 

Factor in WhatsApp’s recent policy changes, and you may encounter hesitance from your members about using and trusting the platform, which in turn impacts how they feel in your community. 

What are the Best WhatsApp Alternatives?

When WhatsApp first announced changes to its privacy policy in January 2021, millions of users moved to alternative messaging platforms. While these platforms still offer limited features for online communities, they offer a more secure overall experience for your members.

 

Let’s look at some of the recommended alternatives to WhatsApp, such as Telegram, Signal, Threema, and Panion. 

1. Telegram 

Telegram


Immediately after WhatsApp’s privacy policy change, we saw, Telegram’s user base grow drastically. Just like WhatsApp, Telegram supports end-to-end encryption and texting, voice calls, video calls, and file-sharing.

 

So what makes it a better WhatsApp alternative?

 

Telegram is actually considered to be a secure alternative to WhatsApp. It uses its own servers to store user data, giving Telegram control over how long it stores the data and to whom it provides useful information.

 

WhatsApp uses third-party storage such as iCloud and therefore maintains less overall control over potential data breaches. Telegram also offers additional features such as self-destructing messages and password protection, which adds an additional level of security if needed.

 

Telegram better caters to online communities by offering supergroups that hold up to 5,000 members and the ability to share files up to 1.5GB in size (however, end-to-end encryption is off by default for such groups, so it’s worth double-checking the group settings if you choose to join).

2. Signal 

Signal

 

The Signal Foundation, the company behind WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption technology, actually has its own secure messaging platform founded in 2010, known as Signal. Unlike WhatsApp, Signal encrypts even the metadata from backup files, group calls, phone numbers, dates, and message times.

 

Besides encryption, it offers timed auto-lock features, self-destructing messages for locally stored files, and screen security to prevent screenshots from being taken of your messages and requires nothing more than a phone number to set up an account.

 

Therefore, it’s no surprise that it is also considered a more secure alternative to WhatsApp. 

 

However, unlike WhatsApp, Signal does not have a huge user base, therefore members might need to create a new account and join a new platform to join your community, which can sometimes be a drawback.

3. Threema

Threema

Despite being a paid platform, Threema is thought to be one of the best alternatives to WhatsApp. It has openly committed to never storing its user data, to the point that you don’t have to provide a phone number or email address when you sign up for its services.

 

Messages are deleted on its private server as soon as they are received, and there’s no way to decrypt any connections. While Threema does ask users for a one-time fee to download the platform, this is to prevent any advertising from creeping onto the app, as is expected on WhatsApp.

 

What makes Threema stand out from other WhatsApp alternatives is its extra features. As well as added security for users, online communities can use polls and “reacts” to increase engagement and password-protected chats to increase member privacy.

4. Panion

Panion

Unlike other messaging apps mentioned above, Panion is a bit more feature-heavy when it comes to community management.

 

It is less focused on solely chatting and more on building meaningful member connections through rich member profiles, interest-driven connections, and member matchmaking. Panion does this while providing useful analytics and tracking, event management tools, and a sleek user-friendly interface. 

 

Panion provides a central threaded posting space for communities to share content and then subgroups that mirror Whatsapp chat for more tailored topic-based discussions. Panion also allows members to search and filter by common interests and location (if desired) so members can connect in-person with those nearby if they so desire.

 

What makes Panion one of the best WhatsApp alternatives isn’t just its wide range of features but its data security practices too.

 

When you host your online community on Panion, you maintain ownership of your community data. As a company, Panion is committed to a forever ad-free experience and, as a European company, is strictly compliant with GDPR. 

Our Final Thoughts on the Best WhatsApp Alternatives for Online Communities

Data protection issues aside, WhatsApp no longer remains the only viable mobile-first option for hosting online communities. Now that we’ve explored some of the best alternatives to WhatsApp, we encourage you to explore which platform best serves the needs of your community.

 

After all, not all communities are built equally, and while one platform may serve the needs of one community, it may not be the right platform for yours. If you need further advice on moving your community from WhatsApp to a new app, check out this blog post on how to move your online community to a new platform.

headshot of blogger Lily Jones
Lily Jones
As a contributor at Panion, Lily waves the flag for communities across the globe. You'll find her here most weeks, chatting with influential community managers, sharing tips on how to build a community and helping users to find their own corner of the community world.