Facebook continues to pitch its Messenger platform at the business community, unveiling a number of major changes at its F8 conference this week designed to help brands get noticed.
Promoting the platform as a “thriving channel for brands, developers and consumers” via a blog post, the company explained the changes, which are focused mostly on getting businesses using Messenger’s chat bots.
The features are not yet globally available, but will likely roll out first in the US and then elsewhere over a number of months.
Get daily business news.
The latest stories, funding information, and expert advice. Free to sign up.
First up is the inclusion of an Instagram-like Discover tab, which the company is promoting as a “Yellow Pages”-esque way for users to discover businesses.
In the tab, Messenger users can see their recently used chat bots, along with lists of featured bots, popular experiences, and nearby local businesses. The tab will also include a search bar, so Messenger users can search for specific businesses or bots to easily connect with them.
Social media expert Andrew Hutchinson believes Facebook is attempting to change the perception the Messenger platform can only be used to communicate with friends.
“Facebook is looking at Asian markets and seeing the demand happening there for business via chat platforms, so there’s a huge opportunity for Messenger,” he told SmartCompany.
“The main challenge is most people don’t see it like that. They use it for interacting with their friends and family, not to discover and talk to businesses.”
Hutchinson believes the introduction of the Discover tab provides an opportunity for businesses to gain increased organic exposure, but he still firmly believes the power of Messenger comes from building chat bots on the platform.
Significant upgrades for chat bots
Facebook is also keen on making its bots more relevant revealing some significant changes to its current offering to let chat bots be included in group messages, and new “smart replies” specifically for small businesses.
“One pain point for many small businesses is managing messages they receive. Small businesses benefit greatly from having messaging turned on so they can interact with and provide service to their customers as quickly as possible,” Facebook said in its blog.
“Today, we’re launching the ability for Pages to respond to the most frequently asked questions, such as business hours, directions and contact details.”
Hutchinson says these developments can provide big opportunities for businesses, claiming the 1.2 billion-strong Messenger user base is an untapped market.
“Only now are businesses just starting to get some use out of it. There’s going to be a tipping point where users start to understand the utility of bots, all it takes is one or two bots that offer real value and then people will jump on board,” he says.
“There’s huge value here for SMEs surrounding labour costs if bots get refined enough to automate certain processes. Theoretically businesses could automate orders or customer support, which would be available at any time of the day.
“I think there’s value to it, but both users and businesses need to understand why it’s valuable. In time we’ll have better development and better exposure.”