Strategies for Customer Service, Ecommerce, Content and Advertising.
Facebook is positioning Messenger as a new way for companies to conduct a variety of business activities. While the mobile messaging app’s sizable active user base makes it a tempting place to be, there are many reasons marketers should take it slow:
■ Facebook Messenger will have 105.2 million active users in the US this year. Four out of 10 mobile phone users will use it, making Messenger the leading over-the-top (OTT) mobile messaging app.
■ Customer service is one of the most promising use cases. So far, businesses including eBay, Hyatt, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and Staples are showing that Messenger can supplement—but not replace—certain existing channels.
■ Messenger may one day facilitate the entire purchase process, but the ways ecommerce businesses such as Spring and 1-800-Flowers.com can use it will be fairly limited until payments are more integrated into the app.
■ Personalized content delivery shows promise, although the experiences of HealthTap, Activision, the National Basketball Association (NBA) and CNN indicate these are early days.
■ Paid advertising is not a focus for Messenger, but initial tests show what might be possible. Look for ad products to begin rolling out as soon as Q3 2016.
■ Messenger is part of a trend in which artificial intelligence (AI) chat bots handle many tasks, including some currently performed by mobile apps. The mobile app business will remain robust in the near term, until chat-based interfaces become more reliable and useful.
Who’s using messenger?
What was once just a feature within Facebook is now one of the world’s most popular mobile messaging services.
Facebook introduced the standalone app in 2011, but it didn’t take off until 2014, when Facebook removed private messaging from the main Facebook app. Mobile users had to either download the Messenger app or use Facebook’s mobile site for messaging. (Desktop users can still send and receive messages from the Facebook website.)
The move to split off messaging caused confusion and a fair amount of user outrage, but many ended up downloading the app. The number of people using the Messenger app grew from 500 million per month in November 2014 to 900 million per month in April 2016.
In June 2016, Facebook began informing users it would soon strip messaging out of its mobile site. That will make the app the only way to send mobile messages on Facebook.
“Right now, we have two of the top messaging apps in the world; 900 million people use Messenger every month, and 1 billion people use WhatsApp every month,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said during the company’s Q1 2016 earnings conference call.
Mobile Messaging Apps Defined
Mobile messaging apps operate at the intersection of text messaging and social networking. They provide private one-to-one or one-to-many communications between registered users, via mobile phone number or user ID. These apps are typically referred to as OTT, because message and calls (voice or video) are transmitted via data connections and the mobile web. In addition to Facebook Messenger, other examples of mobile messaging apps include Line, Snapchat, WeChat and WhatsApp. The definition excludes anonymous social sharing apps such as Yik Yak, social networking apps that offer private messaging capabilities as a secondary feature (e.g., Instagram and Twitter) and apps that solely provide OTT voice/video calling.
A move toward private communication.
Some social media users are moving away from public or semipublic conversations toward more intimate interactions.
“A lot of what used to be social interaction is happening on more of a one-on-one level, and Messenger helps make that happen within a Facebook environment,” said Noah Mallin, head of social for North America at MEC, a media agency.
Snapchat is another example of this trend—its usage has grown as young people turned to the service to share fleeting images and videos with friends.
Changing attitudes toward content usage and sharing. Some social media users are using messaging services to engage with content, because the platforms offer more privacy and less pressure to share or comment.
Desire for more features than SMS or text messaging can provide.
Platforms like Messenger are attractive because they offer more tools than basic texting does. Text messaging usage in the US has been on the decline, according to CTIA, the wireless industry association. After peaking at 2.3 trillion in 2011, the volume of text messaging in the US slipped to about 1.9 trillion in 2015