This week, Facebook is hosting its annual F8 conference in which the company showcases its coming additions, updates and more. There are too many announcements to include in a single post, so we're breaking each down by platform. In this post, we'll look at the features announced for Facebook's messaging tools, which is where, according to Facebook, social interactions are increasingly headed.
Here's what's been announced.
Messenger Desktop App
This may not seem like a major development, but to start with, Facebook has announced a new, dedicated desktop app for Messenger, expanding the potential use cases for the app.
As explained by Facebook:
"People want to seamlessly message from any device, and sometimes they just want a little more space to share and connect with the people they care about most. So today we’re announcing a Messenger Desktop app. You can download the app on your desktop - both Windows and MacOS - and have group video calls, collaborate on projects or multi-task while chatting in Messenger."
Of the functionalities listed, group video calls seems like the most beneficial use case - and worth considering for business users, this will give you the capacity to essentially live-stream from your desktop to an enclosed audience (you can add up to six people to a Messenger group video chat, while up to 50 people can tune into the conversation, but won’t show up on screen).
You have, of course, always been able to reply to messages via desktop, so in terms of core functionality, this is not a huge update. But it does add another aspect to Messenger use, and may provide more accessibility in different regions.
Facebook says that it's testing the new desktop app now, with a view to a full roll out later this year.
Limiting Your Messenger Content to Close Friends Only
Given the rising concerns about privacy, and the shift towards more enclosed social media conversation (as opposed to broadcasting your life for all to see), Facebook's also adding a new option to limit your Messenger interactions to selected groups of close friends only.
As per Facebook:
"Close connections are built on messaging, which is why we are making it easier for you to find the content from the people you care about the most. In Messenger, we're introducing a dedicated space where you can discover Stories and messages with your closest friends and family. You’ll also be able to share snippets from your own day and can choose exactly who sees what you post."
One of the more interesting elements here is the addition of a new emoji status option - as you can see in the first shot, each thumbnail image of your friends' profile includes an emoji overlaid with a brief description underneath (in the example, 'Dancing', '80s everything' and 'Finally home'). The idea here is that you'll be able to signal to your close connections what you're up to at any given time, which could help to facilitate real-life meet-ups.
The more narrow focus could encourage increased Stories use, as you'll know that only your close connections will be seeing your content. You can see, too, that the tiled presentation points to more use of the various Messenger creative options, while it could also free people up to engage more openly, and build even stronger connection with the app itself.
Instagram has been investigating similar tools - it added the ability for users to restrict the audience for their Instagram Stories content last year, while it's been working on a close friends feature - which is almost exactly the same as this - since 2017. The latter hasn't been launched as yet, but it underlines the growing shift towards more private, enclosed conversation, with users growing ever wary about what they say in public spaces, especially those that will be recorded and held against them for all time.
Facebook says the Close Friends option will be launched later this year.
Messenger Lead Ads Templates
For businesses specifically, Facebook's also adding new Messenger lead generation templates to Ads Manager.
"We’re making it even easier for businesses to connect with potential customers by adding lead generation templates to Ads Manager. There, businesses can easily create an ad which drives people to a simple Q&A in Messenger to learn more about their customers. And to make it easier to book an appointment with businesses like car dealerships, stylists or cleaning services, we’ve created an appointment experience so people can book appointments within a Messenger conversation."
As you can see here, the new flow will take users direct from the main Facebook app to a Messenger interaction, and enable them to easily book an appointment, without the advertiser having to do anything.
This could be a good way for Facebook to introduce more businesses to the potential of Messenger bots - while this option, in itself, is not bot-powered, as such, it's essentially the same process, just on a smaller scale. If businesses choose to test out the option, and see good results, it could entice them to try more messaging automation processes, while it'll also help them build their Messenger connection lists for future notifications and promotions (where user permission for such is granted).
Group Video Viewing in Messenger
Communal video viewing is a rising trend that Facebook's looking to capitalize on, giving users more opportunity to consume on-platform video content at the same time as their friends, where they can chat and discuss in real time.
The template on this, for Facebook at least, is Watch Parties - Facebook says that since rolling out Watch Party last July, more than 12 million Watch Parties have been hosted within its Groups, and have garnered, on average, 8x more comments than regular videos. And as you know, engagement is gold for Zuck and Co.
Stretching this further, Facebook has announced that it's adding a new option which will enable people to view Facebook video content within chat groups in Messenger.
As per Facebook:
"You’ll be able to seamlessly share a video from the Facebook app on Messenger and invite others to watch together while messaging or on a video chat. This could be your favorite show, a funny clip or even home videos."
This is another feature that Instagram is also testing - again, Facebook has seen a clear trend towards this type of co-watching and is looking to capitalize on that engagement any way it can.
Facebook says the new option will be rolled out globally later this year.
WhatsApp Business Catalog
Facebook's other messaging app, WhatsApp, is also getting a new feature, and this one is specifically focused on the app's evolving business tools.
To help users connect with relevant businesses, and to help businesses reach more people through the app, Facebook's adding a new product catalog option which will enable users to view what’s available from businesses without having to leave the platform.
"People and businesses are finding WhatsApp a great way to connect. In the months ahead people will be able to see a business catalog right within WhatsApp when chatting with a business. With catalogs, businesses can showcase their goods so people can easily discover them."
With more than 1.5 billion users, Facebook is very keen to ramp up its monetization of WhatsApp, and as such, you can expect to see even more business-related tools for the messaging app in the near future. Just recently, WhatsApp announced the expansion of the WhatsApp Business app to iOS, opening up more opportunities.
In addition to these feature updates, Facebook says that it's also making messenger faster and more reliable, with an entire rebuild "from the ground up".
Streamlining the app is especially important for developing markets, where Facebook is currently seeing its highest rates of growth. If Facebook wants to effectively monetize those users, it needs to ensure they can tap into all the key elements, so it makes sense for Facebook to continually update and refine the app.
As you can see, a heap of new features and tools for Facebook's messaging apps, set to bring a range of new considerations. And as noted, messaging is where Facebook is putting more focus, so it makes sense for the company to roll out new updates in line with this.