16th March 2023

Developer Q&A: Using the latest WhatsApp features (with Twilio)

We’re using ‘Quick Replies’, ‘List Messages’, and ‘Call-to-Action Buttons’ in large scale registration flows for aid organisation NRC in Ukraine.

These rich interactive messages have helped simplify what are complex vital information gathering flows. Going live just over a week ago, we have already seen 36 million messages go back and forth as thousands upon thousands of conversations benefit from quicker, easier interactions.

Here, we get the chance to chat with Zing Head of Dev Dan Hyrjak about the Twilio API for WhatsApp and the messaging features it offers beyond what’s possible with traditional SMS.

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Hi Dan! What’s new in terms of Twilio and WhatsApp functionality?

Hi! Previously, when building with the WhatsApp Business API and Twilio, you’ve had access to WhatsApp-specific features (such as formatting message text, displaying preview links and sending and receiving locations). Additional support was added for Quick Replies and Call to Action Buttons, but things were a little tricky to set up.

Now, with the release of the Messaging Content API (currently in Private beta), we have programmatic access to create ‘Interactive Templates’ for Twilio’s channels including WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, MMS & SMS.

So, what are ‘Interactive Templates’?

Interactive Templates let end users tap the reply they want to give, rather than having to type a corresponding number or letter. Quick Replies, List Messages and Call-to-Action Buttons are all Interactive Templates.

What are WhatsApp Quick Replies?

Quick replies allows end users to return a simple text message by tapping on the reply. You can include up to three quick reply buttons, which means you have to really focus in on the question you’re asking.

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By selecting a reply rather than having to type it, it lets the end user quickly continue the conversation. It also simplifies the processing logic as we know what the possible responses will be.

What are WhatsApp List Messages?

Once end-users click ‘select’ they can then pick from a list of responses.

Note: lists can’t be used for a cold out of session message but can be used during an active conversation.

A list in WhatsApp can contain up to nine items. Each item contains a title and description. When an end user selects an item, its associated code is sent as a reply in the conversation.

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The list element stays in the conversation so you can reuse it if you want to let users select multiple items.

What are WhatsApp Call-to-Action buttons?

They allow customers to tap to visit a site or call a number, providing clear action buttons which integrate with the native dialer and browser applications running on a device.

Are there any more complex controls?

'Cards' are a slightly more complex user control, letting you set an image, some text and action buttons all within a single message.

For Facebook Messenger these can be used out of the box, with WhatsApp you need to run the template through the approval process before they can be used.

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Who can use WhatsApp Interactive Templates?

The standard, rich media, location and basic button templates (added through the Twilio console) can be used on any account using the WhatsApp integration through a WhatsApp Twilio registered phone number.

The latest Interactive Templates (detailed above ) are available through the Twilio Messaging Content API, which is currently in Private Beta. You can request access through this form.

How does the WhatsApp Business API play with Twilio? How hard is it to benefit from these Interactive Templates?

For those who have opted into the Content API beta, there is currently an initial editor experience in the Twilio Console, under the Messaging section.

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The Content API has been designed so that once a message template is created, it can be used across all of the Twilio supported messaging channels. This includes falling back to text templates for those channels where rich features are not supported, e.g. SMS.

Some template types also support variables, allowing for dynamic content that you pass into the template when sending.

The console experience is still evolving, as it’s a private beta, however you can create and update template messages via the rest API and any of the supported Twilio SDKs.

To understand what content types are currently supported (and by which channels), check the Content Types Overview.

Please note that right now, to send a message created via the content API, you must know its Content SID and you have to send via the programmable messaging API. Find out more here: Send Templates Created with the Content Editor.

For docs on the Content Editor experience see: Twilio Content Editor.

Finally, where do you see the biggest potential, who should be adding/using this new(ish) functionality?

The biggest potential is in giving end users a simpler, more intuitive and guided experience. It makes the experience much quicker and reduces the risk of them dropping out halfway through or submitting invalid data.

We have successfully used these new features alongside Twilio Conversations and the Twilio Studio APIs to build large scale registration flows for an aid organisation active in Ukraine and these rich interactive messages have really helped simplify these complex flows.

It’s important to note that we did add in an additional API layer to handle the sending and receiving of messages. This was because we’re also using Viber as a channel, which is not natively supported by Twilio, and as the Content API does not currently natively support sending via Studio Widgets or Conversations, additional development is required to use all these features together.

If you need to create a more intuitive, rich and guided experience for your users on a rich channel such as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger I suggest taking a look at the Twilio Messaging Content API. But do keep in mind that, being in beta, it’s still open to changes, and means the API itself is not covered by Twilio’s standard SLAs until it reaches GA.

If you’d like to find out more about using any of these features, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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