This column was originally published on September 6th, following WhatsApp's unveiling of new messaging tools for businesses.

Six weeks after Mark Zuckerberg said he'd like to see Facebook Inc.  (FB - Get Report) "move a little faster" to monetize Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, WhatsApp has made its first real move to create a large revenue stream since it axed a $1-per-year subscription fee that it only selectively enforced.

It's best to keep expectations for WhatsApp's effort in check, however. Though promising, the services the company just rolled out are unlikely to turn into a 10-figure revenue source. Over the long run, WhatsApp, just like Messenger, will need to embrace advertising in a big way to maximize its revenue potential.

On Sept. 5, WhatsApp announced it's rolling out a pair of tools meant to help businesses message users that they already have a relationship with. A free WhatsApp Business app will be provided to small and mid-sized businesses, and large enterprises will be offered a solution that lets them "provide customers with useful notifications like flight times, delivery confirmations, and other updates."

WhatsApp COO Matt Idema told the Wall Street Journal that his company plans to eventually charge for certain enterprise features, but also admitted it still doesn't "have the details of monetization figured out." A spokeswoman noted that companies in Europe, Brazil, India and Indonesia, including KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, are testing WhatsApp's new tools.

Reuters reported in March that WhatsApp is testing business messaging tools, and that the company is "working carefully to avoid problems with spam messages." And more recently, the company began a pilot program to verify business accounts using a green checkmark.

All of these moves have happened after WhatsApp updated its terms of use in 2016 to let businesses contact users -- including, notably, for marketing purposes. And they've come amid repeated comments from Zuckerberg about how Facebook is keen on fostering more "organic" interactions between businesses and users on both Messenger and WhatsApp, with the idea of having those organic interactions pave the way for advertising opportunities down the line.

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Editors' pick: Originally published Sept. 6.

WhatsApp.
WhatsApp.

Here's why a paid WhatsApp enterprise service could succeed: For many of its billion-plus daily active users (DAUs), particularly those living in markets where per-message text messaging fees are normal, WhatsApp has turned into an SMS replacement. WhatsApp now handles over 55 billion messages per day, not to mention 4.5 billion photos and one billion videos, and is very much a core mobile utility for a large portion of its business.

Owing to WhatsApp's reach and engagement rates, many businesses, particularly overseas, have long used it to reach out to customers. Subscription-based tools that make it easy for consumer-facing enterprises to manage how they provide updates and promote themselves to large numbers of customers should be well-received.

But there's a good chance the addressable market for such tools will be in the millions rather than the billions. Especially since enterprises often have other means of contacting mobile users, such as e-mail and company apps, and since some could stick with the free business app if the price is too high.

Without knowing how WhatsApp plans to price the tools -- it looks like WhatsApp itself might not be sure -- it's tough to guess how much revenue they can generate. But even if WhatsApp landed 20,000 enterprise clients paying $10,000 per year for its tools, we'd be looking at just $200 million in annual sales. A nice revenue stream, but not a giant needle-mover for Facebook, which is expected on average by analysts to produce $50.7 billion in revenue next year.

Charging businesses to send promotional messages to users they have relationships with would, of course, be another way for WhatsApp to make money. Facebook started testing such a feature for Messenger last year, and it might be just a matter of time before it does the same for WhatsApp.

But this service's reach is limited by how many businesses a user interacts with on WhatsApp. If a user interacts with, say, ten businesses and only two or three are interested in paying for sponsored messages, that clearly limits WhatsApp's revenue opportunity.

Ultimately, as much as WhatsApp co-founder/CEO Jan Koum has been averse to showing ads on WhatsApp, Facebook is an advertising company at heart. And an incredibly powerful one at that, claiming over five million global advertisers, a treasure trove of valuable user data, many well-developed targeting and measurement tools and a fairly unique ability to support ad campaigns running across multiple apps possessing nine or ten-figure user bases.

Failing to make WhatsApp, and for that matter Messenger, fully-fledged parts of this ad empire would mean leaving billions in annual ad sales on the table. Particularly when one considers how successful Asian messaging platforms such as Tencent's (TCEHY) WeChat and Line Corp. have been at scaling their ad businesses, and how slowing ad load growth for Facebook's news feed has upped the pressure on the company to grow its ad inventory.

It's understandable that Facebook wants to be cautious in how it rolls out ad products on its messaging apps. Especially on WhatsApp, given how it's used as an SMS replacement and the minimalist, no-frills, philosophy WhatsApp has maintained for its interface and features. Though Facebook recently began testing ads on Messenger's home screen that look much like Facebook news feed ads, odds are that such ads won't appear on WhatsApp's home screen in the near-term.

On the other hand, running ads against WhatsApp's Snapchat Stories clone, known as Status, would make a lot of sense and could prove fairly lucrative. Video ads run against Snapchat Stories are believed to account for the majority of Snap Inc.'s (SNAP - Get Report) revenue, and Instagram has begun running video ads against its popular Stories clone. With Status having added over 250 million DAUs since launching in February -- chances are it will be above 300 million by year's end -- there's a lot of long-term potential.

Other big opportunities should emerge in the long run. After all, a few years ago when investor worries about mobile monetization were still common, it would've been hard to imagine many of the innovative ad products that Facebook's core app now relies heavily on. Once Facebook gets serious about monetizing WhatsApp via ads, it should only be a matter of time before its ad product teams figure out how to make the world's most popular messaging app pay off on a large scale.