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How these women entrepreneurs leveraged the Facebook family of apps to sustain their …

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The rapid spread of COVID-19 and the consequent lockdowns caused massive disruptions for many businesses in the country.

A Facebook Future of Business study, conducted with the World Bank and the OECD, showed that women-owned small-medium businesses (SMBs) were more likely to report closed due to COVID-19, even when considering the business size, sector, and geography.

The study also that women are disproportionately bearing the burden of domestic responsibilities. Access to finance has also been a critical challenge for the MSME sector, and the same report revealed that almost a third of small businesses in India expect cash flow to be a challenge in the coming months.

At the same time, the studies also found that women business leaders showed a greater degree of flexibility in their business models in response to COVID-19 and were more likely to make more than 50 percent of sales through digital channels.

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Keeping these studies in mind, Facebook sprang into action and enhanced its focus on business skilling initiatives during this period.

Leveraging social media

In an interview with HerStory, Archana Vohra, Director – Small and Medium Businesses, Facebook India, outlined the different programmes initiated to help businesses cope and sustain during this period.

She explains, “Our Managed Partners Program helps mid-tier businesses scale and grow through account management support from our third-party partners. This is available free of cost to customers, and we have enabled 16X more businesses since March 2020.

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“Another flagship programme, the Advertiser Bootcamp, offers deep business learning support through masterclasses and custom content in Hindi and English, and has reached out to 15 million customers on the platform. Our VC Brand Incubator Program, which works with venture capital funds to scale young brands, just finished two years during which time it has tied up with nine VC funds and scaled more than 200 early funded businesses.” 

Archana says the inability to secure timely credit has been a massive impediment to the growth of small businesses.

“The pandemic has been challenging for small businesses, especially women-owned ones. At the same time, insights from our apps indicated that women were showing tremendous resilience, leadership, and optimism during these times. In 2020, women created twice as many fundraisers on Facebook as men did and made twice as many donations, with 64 percent of total funds raised from women.

“Women have also led the way in growing communities and rallying resources, creating 2.7X more COVID-19-related groups than men, with four times more members. And most importantly, despite challenges and uncertainties, women continued to start their businesses – 20 percent of Instagram Business profiles created since November 2020 have the words ‘female/women owned’,” she adds.

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Increasing sales and building communities

Kanika Gupta Shori of Square Yards, Vasavi Polimer of Studio Shreshtha, and Anju Srivastava of Wingreens Farms

Women entrepreneurs did not have it easy, but found different ways to pivot, increase sales, build a strong community of users on Instagram and Facebook, and find new customers.

Anju Srivastava, Founder, Wingreens Farms, a brand that offers sauces, mayo, chips, herbs and seasonings and other products, saw the focus shift from sampling in stores to utilising social media to have a direct line of communication with customers.

Anju explains that the product mix needed to be diversified to empower consumers to cook gourmet meals at home. “Since the pandemic struck, Wingreens has launched over 30 new products spanning five different categories. All of these products/categories have been curated keeping in mind not only ‘taste’ but also ‘easy gourmet cooking at home’.”

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“Facebook and Instagram became our primary channels for brand awareness. These platforms not only allowed us to keep in touch with our customers and generate awareness for our new products but to create a tight-knit community in which the entire Wingreens family can share and grow together,” she adds.

Kanika Gupta Shori, Co-founder and COO of real estate and mortgage platform Square Yards, explains that the first step was to immediately utilise their energies and tech capacities to build an integrated online platform to enable a home buyer to search, view selected projects, and even book and make payments for the desired unit from the comfort of their homes.

“Within days of the lockdown, we were able to pull off a digital platform and evolve our business model in a way that the April to June 2020 quarter ended on a high. As opposed to an expected slump in business, Square Yards ended up capturing 20 percent of the total market share during the quarter, making it one of the best quarterly performances to date,” she says.  

For Vasavi Polimera, Founder, Studio Shreshtha, an Instagram-based women’s ethnic wear label, the business was already doing well online before the pandemic struck.

“While the pandemic brought in challenges, there was also a silver lining. Since physical marketplaces were shut, we were under the impression that this would lead to a manifold increase in online shopping. What we didn’t consider was that the pandemic would also affect people’s purchasing power, and that would, in turn, affect our business,” she explains.

This translated into the business losing sales significantly – the pandemic had started a chain reaction. Vasavi says while some customers wanted to shop occasionally, they were unable to buy from the store, as its Instagram handle could not aid purchases.

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“This is where WhatsApp Business came to our rescue. We adopted WhatsApp Business to ensure that if our customers could not reach us, we reached out to them. The catalogue feature ensured the smooth launch of new product offerings and showcased existing clothing lines in a concise display of offerings. This drove traction, further generating sales due to ease of purchase,” she adds.

Growth during a pandemic

The shift in marketing and social media strategies seems to have paid off for these entrepreneurs.

“Our overall business has grown beyond what it was during pre-COVID times, and the ecommerce revenue has grown more than 30X of what it was pre-COVID, largely due to advertising on Facebook and Instagram,” Anju says.

According to Kanika, Square Yards’ market grew 3-4X. She claims transactions outperformed the industry by 80 percent and the company’s global ambitions were on point, with international businesses contributing to almost one-third of the total revenue.

“The complete online re-modelling of our business meant that our traffic on www.squareyards.com jumped 4X+ to 3 million-plus monthly visitors in 2020. At a time when the economy was badly hit, and business in the real estate sector had suffered losses to the tune of 30-40 percent, we recorded double-digit growth with a double-digit EBITDA margin,” she says.

Though shopping via online channels was already on the rise, the adoption and onboarding of technology sped up post-pandemic, Vasavi says. “This influenced a rise in revenue for us. As time progressed and the pandemic came under control, it translated the shift in consumer behaviour to sales. Being on WhatsApp Business helped us scale up the brand reach and ease the shopping experience for our customers.”

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Optimistic about the future

Anju has big dreams and ambitions for Wingreens and on top of the D2C brand’s list is product expansion.

“You can come to us for Wingreens dips and sauces, RAW juices, almond milk, and protein shakes, Appitas pita chips and other healthy snacking products, The Impatient Baker ready mixes, Spice Rack international herbs, seasonings and Indian spice mixes, breakfast muesli – we will soon have a full range of organic products under Organic Country, fruit yoghurts, cheese, oat milk, regular milk, bread, tea, coffee…the list is endless!”

Square Yards kicked off FY22 by clocking a 50 percent year-on-year growth in revenue at Rs 100.8 crore, with a positive EBITDA run rate, while its Gross Transactional Value (GTV) was up 80 percent at Rs 2,197 crore, as compared to Q1 FY21. Its property transactions also witnessed an 80 percent on-year jump at 3,916 deals during the quarter ending June.

“Despite continuous investments in ramping up distribution capacity and building blocks of new business segments, corporate profitability for Square Yards also held up strongly at 32 percent with positive EBITDA margins. Most importantly, our marketplace has continued to gain momentum with 4.5 million monthly traffic run rate and 50k+ active agents,” Kanika says.

Vasavi is in the process of revamping Studio Shreshta’s website to make it easier for customers to shop through its WhatsApp catalogues that can be accessed directly from its website.

Archana emphasises that Facebook is committed to supporting women-led businesses in India.

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Apart from its Small Business Loans Initiative, Facebook, in collaboration with The Nudge Centre for Social Innovation, incubates and accelerates early-stage women-led nonprofits. In its second phase, the initiative awards six grants of up to Rs 50 lakh for each non-profit to scale its work.  

Created in 2016, Facebook’s #SheMeansBusiness Initiative supports women’s economic empowerment through training in digital skills and providing avenues to expand their business connections and networks. 

“Last year, together with the CSC Academy, we upskilled 2.5 lakh rural entrepreneurs on digital tools related to digital marketing and online safety across 25,594 villages in 12 states. At least 70 percent of the people trained were first-time internet users. The average income of women village level entrepreneurs increased by ~20 percent quarterly,” Archana says.

Edited by Teja Lele Desai

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Updates to Section 7 of the Developer Policies – Facebook Gaming Policies

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We have updated Section 7 of the Developer Policies effective immediately. No change is required from the developers’ end, only awareness about these changes.

As part of our continuous focus on improving developers’ experience, we have made some updates to the Section 7 of the Developer Policies which covers all Facebook Gaming Products, such as Web Games on Facebook.com, Instant Games and Cloud Games. As part of this update we have removed outdated policies, and streamlined the language and structure of Section 7 to better reflect the existing state of our Facebook Gaming Products. We have also reorganized some policies under the Quality Guidelines. These updates do not introduce any product change, nor do they include any new requirements for developers.

Please review the updated Section 7 to familiarize yourself with the updated content structure.

First seen at developers.facebook.com

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Creating Apps with App Use Cases

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With the goal of making Meta’s app creation process easier for developers to create and customize their apps, we are announcing the rollout of an updated process using App Use Cases instead of the former product-focused process. App Use Cases will enable developers to quickly create apps by selecting the use case that best represents their reason for creating an app.

Currently, the product-focused app creation process requires developers to select an app type and individually request permission to API endpoints. After listening to feedback from developers saying this process was, at times, confusing and difficult to navigate, we’re updating our approach that’s based on App Use Cases. With App Use Cases, user permissions and features will be bundled with each use case so developers can now confidently select the right data access for their needs. This change sets developers up for success to create their app and navigate app review, ensuring they only get the exact data access they need to accomplish their goals.

Starting today Facebook Login will be the first use case to become available to developers. This will be the first of many use cases that will be built into the app creation process that will roll out continually in 2023. For more information please reference our Facebook Login documentation.

First seen at developers.facebook.com

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Understanding Authorization Tokens and Access for the WhatsApp Business Platform

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The WhatsApp Business Platform makes it easy to send WhatsApp messages to your customers and automate replies. Here, we’ll explore authentication using the Cloud API, hosted by Meta.

We’ll start with generating and using a temporary access token and then replace it with a permanent access token. This tutorial assumes you’re building a server-side application and won’t need additional steps to keep your WhatsApp application secrets securely stored.

Managing Access and Authorization Tokens

First, let’s review how to manage authorization tokens and safely access the API.

Prerequisites

Start by making sure you have a developer account on Meta for Developers. You’ll also need WhatsApp installed on a mobile device to send test messages to.

Creating an App

Before you can authenticate, you’ll need an application to authenticate you.

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Once you’re signed in, you see the Meta for Developers App Dashboard. Click Create App to get started.

Next, you’ll need to choose an app type. Choose Business.

After that, enter a display name for your application. If you have a business account to link to your app, select it. If not, don’t worry. The Meta for Developers platform creates a test business account you can use to experiment with the API. When done, click Create App.

Then, you’ll need to add products to your app. Scroll down until you see WhatsApp and click the Set up button:

Finally, choose an existing Meta Business Account or ask the platform to create a new one and click Continue:

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And with that, your app is created and ready to use. You’re automatically directed to the app’s dashboard.

Note that you have a temporary access token. For security reasons, the token expires in less than 24 hours. However, you can use it for now to test accessing the API. Later, we’ll cover how to generate a permanent access token that your server applications can use. Also, note your app’s phone number ID because you’ll need it soon.

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Click the dropdown under the To field, and then click Manage phone number list.

In the popup that appears, enter the phone number of a WhatsApp account to send test messages to.

Then, scroll further down the dashboard page and you’ll see an example curl call that looks similar to this:

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curl -i -X POST https://graph.facebook.com/v13.0//messages -H 'Authorization: Bearer ' -H 'Content-Type: application/json' -d '{ "messaging_product": "whatsapp", "to": "", "type": "template", "template": { "name": "hello_world", "language": { "code": "en_US" } } }'

Note that the Meta for Developers platform inserts your app’s phone number ID and access token instead of the and placeholders shown above. If you have curl installed, paste the command into your terminal and run it. You should receive a “hello world” message in WhatsApp on your test device.

If you’d prefer, you can convert the curl request into an HTTP request in your programming language by simply creating a POST request that sets the Authorization and Content-Type headers as shown above, including the JSON payload in the request body.

Since this post is about authentication, let’s focus on that. Notice that you’ve included your app’s access token in the Authorization header. For any request to the API, you must set the Authorization header to Bearer .

Remember that you must use your token instead of the placeholder. Using bearer tokens will be familiar if you’ve worked with JWT or OAuth2 tokens before. If you’ve never seen one before, a bearer token is essentially a random secret string that you, as the bearer of the token, can present to an API to prove you’re allowed to access it.

Failure to include this header causes the API to return a 401 Unauthorized response code.

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Creating a Permanent Access Token

Knowing that you need to use a bearer token in the Authorization header of an HTTP request is helpful, but it’s not enough. The only access token you’ve seen so far is temporary. Chances are that you want your app to access the API for more than 24 hours, so you need to generate a longer-lasting access token.

Fortunately, the Meta for Developers platform makes this easy. All you need to do is add a System User to your business account to obtain an access token you can use to continue accessing the API. To create a system user, do the following:

  • Go to Business Settings.

  • Select the business account your app is associated with.
  • Below Users, click System Users.
  • Click Add.
  • Name the system user, choose Admin as the user role, and click Create System User.
  • Select the whatsapp_business_messaging permission.
  • Click Generate New Token.
  • Copy and save your token.

Your access token is a random string of letters and numbers. Now, try re-running the earlier request using the token you just created instead of the temporary one:

curl -i -X POST https://graph.facebook.com/v13.0//messages -H 'Authorization: Bearer ' -H 'Content-Type: application/json' -d '{ "messaging_product": "whatsapp", "to": "", "type": "template", "template": { "name": "hello_world", "language": { "code": "en_US" } } }'

Your test device should receive a second hello message sent via the API.

Best Practices for Managing Access Tokens

It’s important to remember that you should never embed an App Access Token in a mobile or desktop application. These tokens are only for use in server-side applications that communicate with the API. Safeguard them the same way you would any other application secrets, like your database credentials, as anyone with your token has access to the API as your business.

If your application runs on a cloud services provider like AWS, Azure, GCP, or others, those platforms have tools to securely store app secrets. Alternatively there are freely-available secret stores like Vault or Conjur. While any of these options may work for you, it’s important to evaluate your options and choose what works best for your setup. At the very least, consider storing access tokens in environment variables and not in a database or a file where they’re easy to find during a data breach.

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Conclusion

In this post, you learned how to create a Meta for Developers app that leverages the WhatsApp Business Platform. You now know how the Cloud API’s bearer access tokens work, how to send an access token using an HTTP authorization header, and what happens if you send an invalid access token. You also understand the importance of keeping your access tokens safe since an access token allows an application to access a business’ WhatsApp messaging capabilities.

Why not try using the Cloud API, hosted by Meta if you’re considering building an app for your business to manage WhatsApp messaging? Now that you know how to obtain and use access tokens, you can use them to access any endpoint in the API.

First seen at developers.facebook.com

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