While all three apps will continue to work as stand-alone applications, the underlying messaging infrastructure will be integrated. For example, a WhatsApp user could message an Instagram user, something that's currently not possible.
The integration is projected to be completed by the end of 2019 or early 2020, according to The New York Times, which interviewed various people familiar with the project.
And if that is indeed the case, that could be a very big deal for digital marketers.
Why is Facebook Making this Move?
The integration of Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp is reported to have caused a lot of internal strife.
Instagram’s founders, Mike Krieger and Kevin Systrom, unexpectedly left Facebook in September 2018 as Mark Zuckerberg began taking more control over what was previously left as a completely separate application. WhatsApp's founders Brian Acton and Jan Koum reportedly also departed for similar reasons.
Facebook hasn’t yet provided specific reasons as to why they're looking to make this change, but you'd assume there'd have to be a significant reason as to why they would reverse their previous position of allowing Instagram and WhatsApp to operate as largely independent entities.
Here’s my two cents on the change, and what it could mean for Facebook - and digital marketers - moving forward.
Messenger Integration Reason #1: Chatbots
Q: Who the heck would ever want to message someone on WhatsApp using Instagram?
This particularly relates to chatbots - as chatbot adoption grows, it's going to become super-annoying for businesses to have to make separate bots for WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger.
With this update, businesses will be able to message their customers, regardless of which messaging platform they're using - the change would appear (in theory) to extend the reach of a Facebook Messenger chatbot to a significantly larger and more geographically, and demographically, diverse population, which creates a super-compelling case for businesses to engage and communicate with their customers via chat.
Integration Reason #2: Alternative to Email
Email marketing is a +$100 Billion dollar industry - yet email marketing itself is actually, mostly awful.
Any company or individual can simply guess your email, or buy it from an email list vendor, then send you unsolicited emails. And you can't expect those companies to honor your unsubscribes either, despite government regulations.
And yet, there's really no credible alternative to email for business-to-consumer communications due to user fragmentation. Everyone uses email, yet people use so many different messaging platforms.
Merging messaging functionality across these three enormously popular applications would create a messaging system that could potentially rival the ubiquity of email. Businesses could reach most internet users, while users could look forward to the elimination of spam, since Facebook requires that users opt-in to receiving messages from businesses.
Integration Reason #3: WeChat
In China, there is no “news feed”, there's only WeChat, which is used like an alternative to a web browser - not just for messaging, but also to buy clothing, call a ride-sharing service, order lunch, etc.
No such service exists in Western markets, at least partly due to user fragmentation across messaging platforms - but if Facebook could consolidate messaging utilization, more and more business could roll out business services on top of that platform.
This could be enormously valuable to Facebook - Tencent, the parent company of WeChat, is currently estimated to be worth around $400 billion. Facebook, for comparison, is valued at around $500 billion.
There are various benefits, both for Facebook and digital marketers, and this would be a significant shift in the broader communications landscape. Now we wait to see how it will actually play out.