Of all of Facebook’s apps, Messenger has likely seen the most significant changes in recent times. Instagram has also seen its fair share of updates, and Facebook itself is always changing, but Messenger has added a wide range of new tools and features, including games, stories, updated group chats, bots – the list goes on.
That makes sense – as Messenger has grown to more than 1.3 billion monthly active users, Facebook's subsequently turned its attention to monetization, and ways in which they can capitalize on the rising usage of the app. Some of those efforts haven’t paid off as Facebook would have liked (bots), but as Messenger continues to grow, you can expect Zuck and Co. to keep trying new things, to keep working to make the platform a more important communication and business tool.
Which is where The Social Network sees Messenger headed, according to a new blog post from Messenger chief David Marcus.
Reflecting on 2017, Marcus has outlined six key trends he sees for Messenger moving forward, offering some interesting insight into their plans for the app.
Here are Marcus’ six Messenger predictions for 2018 – and what they might mean for users.
1. Real-time Connection
Marcus notes that voice and video chat have now become a significant part of the Messenger experience, with users seeking more real-time connection options, as opposed to basic messaging.
In line with this, Marcus says that they’ll be making real-time connection a bigger focus, with new tools to help make it easier to connect.
“No one wants to miss a special moment, but real time communication is what connects us in times of crisis too... and we unfortunately saw more than our share of that last year. At Messenger, we want to make sure you can celebrate a cousin's engagement from the other side of the world as well as make sure your friend is safe after a natural disaster.”
The focus here will be on boosting video chats – Messenger saw double the amount of video calls in 2017 over the year previous, with 17 billion video chats logged. Facebook’s also been working to put more focus on group video chats, a rising trend among younger users, in particular. They added masks and emojis for group video chats in July last year, and have been developing their own dedicated group video app, called ‘Bonfire’, which is now available in some regions.
Expect Messenger to continue developing new tools on this front, and adding ways to prompt immediate connection between users.
2. Focus on Groups
Marcus puts more emphasis on group chats in his second point, noting that:
“There are many ways we can make groups better. Identity is built in - it's all about people, not phone numbers. Blazing fast ways to share photos and videos - incidentally our photo quality is better than ever (4k) - plus ways to upgrade group chat into live video group chat.”
As noted, group video discussions have seen a significant rise of late, so focusing on them makes sense, particularly in line with younger user trends. Expect Facebook to add more ways for users to connect, in larger groups, and options to better facilitate discussions and events via Messenger video.
This could also be good news for brands – Facebook could look to add more tools which would enable larger group video conversations, for example, providing another avenue for building brand community or holding members-only events.
3. Simplify and Streamline
This one will be music to the ears of many. Marcus also notes that the app itself has become too cluttered:
“Expect to see us invest in massively simplifying and streamlining Messenger this year.”
This is one of the more common criticisms of Messenger, that they’ve simply added too much – for example, this is a screenshot of a Messenger ad option Facebook had been testing, with ad units wedged in between your ‘Favorites’ and ‘Active Now’ listing.
That’s already below your Messenger Day stories bar, then your messages, groups, and aside from the various tabs available by swiping left.
This also hits at a core issue that Messenger faces – that many users simply aren’t looking for a billion different functions, they don’t want Messenger to be an ‘all-in-one’, do everything app. Many Messenger users only want to use it for messaging.
That seems to also be a potential restriction for Facebook as they work to make Messenger a more significant business option – if users aren’t looking to use bots and/or connect with businesses on the platform, Facebook needs to demonstrate why they should want to do so, what Messenger can do to simplify the process.
That said, Messenger businesses use is rising – Facebook says that more than 2 billion messages are now sent between businesses and people on Messenger each month. But it’s not rising at the pace Facebook would like.
You’d think that with the simplification of the app, that Facebook will also be looking at new ways to make their business options more prominent – they need to monetize their audience some way. But it’ll be interesting to see how the simplification of Messenger relates to their wider ambitions.
4. More Visual
Marcus also says that he expects to see more focus on visual communication on Messenger in 2018:
“I predict visual messaging will fully explode in 2018; people will expect a super-fast and intuitive camera, video, images, GIFs, and stickers with almost every conversation. Even in the workplace where conversations can be more serious, we see people embracing emojis and video to help drive a point home.”
In some ways, this larger visual focus can be attributed to the growth of Snapchat, which broadened the boundaries of visual communication, adding in virtual masks, stickers, Geofilters, etc. Sure, other apps have had similar visual enhancements for some time, but Snapchat pushed their options further, and advanced the video trend, prompting all other platforms to step-up their game.
Facebook, of course, has already taken many cues from Snapchat, adding in Stories for Instagram, Facebook and Messenger, while they’re also advancing their AR tools and working to provide better visual options for the Facebook Camera and other communications tools.
Where will they go next? Expect Messenger to also look to add in advanced AR features – which have already proven popular in Messenger video chats.
Facebook has a range of new tools in the works on this front, and while they may not all work within the slimmed down, stripped back Messenger environment, Marcus’ comment suggests that visual elements will get more focus. Expect to see them popping up more prominently within your Messenger interactions.
5. Customer Service
This is an area with real, significant potential for Messenger – which may prove a much better starting point for Messenger business than diving straight into bots (though the two do go hand-in-hand to some degree).
Marcus notes that:
“Messaging has now become a preferred way for people to communicate with businesses to get things done, and sometimes learn a little more about the brand. According to a Facebook-commissioned study by Nielsen, 56% of people surveyed would rather message a business than call customer service, and 67% expect to message businesses even more over the next two years. And while calling still plays a prominent role in customer service, this has opened the door for brands and businesses to communicate with their customers in a variety of new ways to not only respond to issues or one-off questions, but to offer an up-sell opportunity to benefit both people and the business.”
This is definitely an area of opportunity – traditionally, Twitter has been the preferred social channel for customer service interactions, with the fast-paced, public nature of tweets providing great impetus for response. Messenger can serve similar purpose – Twitter may win out on the public exposure angle (which many angry customers use as a form of leverage), but Messenger’s integration with websites, offering a simplified version of live chat, could be a significant win, especially as a means to keep visitors engaged.
With so many people already active on Messenger, it’s really just a matter of showing them why communicating with brands on the same channel is of value. Web chat tools like this could be a great way to connect the dots.
6. Messenger as a Marketing Channel
And Marcus’ final note relates to the wider ambition to convert Messenger into a key marketing platform – which, as noted, may prove difficult for several reasons.
“People expect to find businesses with some sort of messaging experience - whether it's a live chat functionality or something more complex like a complete platform experience on Messenger. But over the last year, we've heard from more and more marketers that they know that messaging is the next great channel - but how do they get started? We've been encouraged to see that bigger brand names are bringing a presence to Messenger (LEGO, Katy Perry, Apple Music) which signals the acceptance from CMOs that it's time to create a unique and effective experience that can reach more people at scale. Look for investment in rich messaging experiences not only from global brands, but small businesses who need to be creative and nimble to stay competitive.”
As detailed above, Messenger’s business push could see several potential roadblocks, particularly in user perception of what the platform is, and how they want to use it.
But here’s another big issue Messenger’s likely to face on this front – with Facebook continually changing the rules, and recently flagging more significant changes to the News Feed in their main app, which will see the reduction of Page content distribution, what reason do businesses have to place their trust in Messenger, and put more reliance on another Facebook platform?
If anything, the most recent announcements from Facebook will inspire more brands to re-consider their investment in Facebook, and Instagram, and Messenger. Which is hard to do, given their sheer size and reach potential. But most now understand that it’s likely only a matter of time before Facebook changes the rules on those platforms too.
Should businesses put more emphasis on Messenger, knowing Facebook’s history of welcoming brands in, only to turn their back on them at a later stage?
That’s not to say this will be a totally restrictive factor – many businesses will still buy in. But it does add to Messenger’s challenges.
No doubt, there’s a heap of potential in Messenger for business, but there are seeds of concern too. It’ll be interesting to see how Marcus and his team are able to overcome the various challenges.