As expected, at Facebook’s F8 developer conference today, the company announced Messenger Platform for third-party developers. It also announced a related “bots for Messenger” tool set that allows creation of scalable, AI-powered interactions with companies on Messenger.
The move follows the blueprint of the 10-year-old Facebook Platform, but it could have more dramatic implications for commerce, customer service and content distribution.
Some people, including analyst Dan Miller of Opus Research in 2011, and more recently, Chris Messina, have used the term “conversational commerce” to discuss new ways that brands and consumers can interact through technology such as chat bots and messaging. Others have audaciously called messaging apps “the new browsers.” That remains to be seen and is contingent on significant consumer behavior change.
By the same token, Messenger has huge global potential. With a base of 900 million monthly active unique users and 50 million company Pages, Facebook already has both sides of a global marketplace. Facebook hopes marketers will turn to Messenger now as a primary communication and commerce channel to reach the company’s massive user base.
David Marcus, who runs Messenger, has now in some ways become the most important person at Facebook. He briefly showed of the range of things that Messenger as a platform could do during the keynote. Users could buy shoes or flowers, play games, discover and access news content and generally interact with brands and companies. Messenger is also now a search engine where consumers can discover content or companies on Messenger.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the Marcus keynote was the positioning of Messenger as an alternative to SMS, the mobile web, and even apps. Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp together process 60 billion messages per day. That’s 3x global SMS messaging volume, according to Facebook.
While Facebook and Messenger are top apps with massive reach, Facebook reminded the audience that it’s very challenging to acquire and retain app users (see retailers). And the mobile web often offers a second-rate user experience (the rationale behind Google AMP).
Facebook is more than implying that Messenger can operate as a substitute channel. In practice, it will probably complement other channels and further fragment digital and mobile audiences.
Some marketers and brands will successfully use Messenger for commerce, some will use it mainly as a customer service channel (danger, Twitter) and some will use it to simply engage or acquire users for other purposes. And there will be “sponsored messages,” cautiously implemented at first.
Along with the Messenger Platform announcement, Facebook announced an array of 33 launch partners offering the gamut of contemplated use cases from commerce to content discovery. They included Bank of America, Burger King, CNN, Expedia, Fandango, LivePerson, Salesforce, Shopify, StubHub, Thrillist and UNICEF.