TechCrunch has recently reported that they have acquired documents from an unverified Facebook source which suggests that the social media giant will be launching advertisements within its Messenger app in Q2 2016. This will come in the form of allowing businesses to send messages to consumers who had previously interacted with the said business, and so Facebook are encouraging businesses to try and get customers to contact them now before the new features are rolled out.
The document also states that Facebook has subtly launched a URL short link that quickly opens a chat conversation with a business. Facebook has confirmed this, therefore validating the leaked document for the introduction of Messenger Ads.
While some users are displaying disagreement with the introduction of ads, as can be seen in the comments of the TechCrunch article, it must be remembered that Facebook is still first and foremost a business. Messenger has over 800 million monthly users; a market that they’d be foolish not to tap into. They provide us with a free global network where we can catch up with friends, arrange events and find out the latest news in the world. The question needs to be asked; would you rather have ads or pay a monthly subscription fee? Because it’ll be one or the other; especially when investors want to see a return on their investment.
Although the rumours currently floating around the Internet suggest that it will be “advertisements” that Facebook introduces, Facebook VP Brad Smallwood has insisted that they are introducing “marketing” rather than “advertisements”. Is he being coy with terminology to avoid using the word “ads” or are Facebook specifically ensuring they don’t go down that route?
It would make sense since CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in 2014, after acquiring WhatsApp, that he doesn’t believe ads are the correct way to monetise messaging applications. WhatsApp’s CEO Jan Koum also supported this view in 2012 when he wrote that he believes ads aren’t “just the disruption of aesthetics, the insults to your intelligence and the interruption of your train of thought”, but that they are also a huge waste of resources.
Regardless of whether these are considered “ads” or “marketing”, they can still have benefits. It will further develop the personal relationship customers have built up with consumers through channels like Facebook and Twitter, allowing them to get ever-closer with the inside knowledge and latest deals from that business.
It also marks the next step in Facebook, who also own WhatsApp, seemingly looking to follow suit with WeChat, China’s equivalent to the western world’s messaging services. Some argue that WeChat is lightyears ahead of Messenger and WhatsApp as they allow for consumers to purchase tickets and pay grocery stores, as well as be contacted by brands they are interested in, although this is limited per day. Now that it is increasingly looking like Facebook is soon to be allowing brands to contact interested customers, how long before they introduce other features similar to WeChat?
It will be interesting to see how far Facebook will take the marketing within Messenger. As VP Smallwood said, they are only planning on allowing businesses to contact customers who have previously messaged them, but might this change? Will there be a limit on how many messages can be sent per day? It’ll also be interesting to see how much Facebook will charge businesses for the service as this is the most aggressive form of advertising, yet it is likely to be steeper than previous updates.
This is all part of a progressive move by Facebook since 2011 to merge social and business closer together. They have allowed users to message company pages directly, hired former PayPal President David Marcus in 2014 who had a new vision for scrapping talking to customer support through 1-800 numbers, and in 2015 announced its Business of Messenger system which allowed eCommerce customers to receive receipts and speak with customer service agents to edit orders. They also already allow businesses to interact with the Messenger app in some way; for example users can request an Uber ride using an address in Messenger.
When contacted for comment on the recent revelations, Facebook had this to say: “We don’t comment on rumour or speculation. That said, our aim with Messenger is to create a high quality, engaging experience for 800 million people around the world, and that includes ensuring people do not experience unwanted messages of any type”. It seems that they are perhaps hinting at the limitation or elimination of spam messages.
If conducted in the right way the new Facebook Messenger ads will allow for a new level of connectivity between businesses and customers and may increase both company revenue as well as customer experience. There is of course a risk that it will also go the other way; too much spam and it won’t be long before customers are back to using SMS rather than Messenger or WhatsApp. These ads could be rolled out as early as April, and it will be intriguing to see how customers react to initial tests.