Back in April, Facebook unveiled their long-awaited Bots for Messenger platform. This followed on from the launch of their AI assistant for Messenger, called 'M', released last August, and came with the hype that Messenger Bots would fast become the next big thing in social eCommerce. But in the almost six months since, the Bot revolution hasn't exactly taken off.
Today, Facebook has re-affirmed their confidence in Messenger Bots, and Messenger as a business platform, with the launch of Messenger Platform 1.2. And while the Bots haven't come to take all our customer service jobs just yet, Facebook has introduced some new ways to facilitate improved bot processes which will make them a more enticing option moving forward.
Here's what Messenger Platform 1.2 has to offer.
Messenger as a Destination for News Feed Ads
The first addition of the new update relates to how brands connect people to their Messenger presence.
"To further enable businesses to target discovery of experiences on the Messenger Platform, we are starting to roll out ads in News Feed that drive people to chat with your bot on Messenger."
As shown in the above image, advertisers will now be able to select Messenger as a destination under the website clicks objective and use any call-to-action in their ad - including ""Send Message", "Shop New" or "Learn More" - to link direct to a Messenger thread.
"All clicks on these News Feed ads will directly open up a Messenger thread with a copy of the ad or configurable structured message. Similar to existing Facebook ads, developers and businesses will have the option to select their target audiences and delivery times."
It's a great way to help brands promote their Messenger presence and initiate more immediate, direct conversation threads with potential customers. While Messenger has introduced a range of new ways to help businesses promote their Messenger presence - like Messenger codes and shortened usernames - this option will enable them to more actively promote their Messenger presence via Facebook's ever-expanding ad platform.
Enhanced Mobile Websites in Messenger
As noted by Facebook:
"...while some interactions are better in a conversational format (like quick responses or intent capture), and some things are better suited for a permanent thread (like receipts, shipping notifications and flight updates), some experiences are truly better with a full-fledged UI."
As such, Facebook is also enabling developers to build web views into Messenger conversations to integrate interfaces from their websites.
As per TechCrunch:
"This way you could scroll a list of flights, consume different types of media, or even play basic games while still in the chat window."
The option will provide businesses with new ways to facilitate direct connection with customers via the platform - the new tools are in beta at the moment and will take a little longer to be rolled out fully.
Messages with Payments
This is the big one. One of the key issues with business via Messenger thus far has been that users have had to link out to an external website to actually make a payment and complete the transaction. Not anymore.
The new option will enable users to register their credit card info (or use the credit card info they've already listed with Facebook) to make purchases without ever leaving the app. This is a big step for Messenger commerce, and it opens up a heap of opportunities, particularly for bots. Now, with a well-refined bot service, you'll be able to automate the entire purchase process, end-to-end, within a Messenger thread, meaning all businesses need to do is process the orders as they comes through.
The implications of this are big, likely bigger than many realize. And while, as noted, bots haven't gained a heap of traction just yet, the capacity to make payments within the process will likely expedite their development and adoption.
Facebook's also introducing new welcome screens which will greet users when they start a new thread with your bot within Messenger.
Your welcome message will provide a more personal touch to your business bot, with information including the category of the associated Page, response time and capabilities provided on Messenger. Businesses will be able to customize their introductory text via Page settings.
Improved Sharing Options
People will also now be able to share bots with friends via the Messenger share button.
"All shared messages will include the bot icon, name and CTA that allows people to start a thread with the associated bot."
The function will help brands spread the word about their bots, which could be particularly relevant for those utilizing influencer marketing on the platform.
In addition, Facebook's also updating quick replies with new location details and attachment re-use on multiple sends, enabling easier information sharing.
These are some important, relevant updates that'll help make Messenger, and Messenger Bots, more business-friendly. And while bots haven't changed the world at this stage, there's still plenty of reason to believe they soon will.
So why is Facebook putting emphasis on Messenger Bots? Because messaging is where people's attention now lies.
Global message volume is now three times higher than SMS was at peak, and both Messenger and WhatsApp - the two biggest messaging platforms in the world - have more than a billion active users each.
When you combine their growth with that of other messaging platforms, like Snapchat, it's clear to see that messaging is increasingly popular, particularly among the emerging Millennial market. In fact, according to Pew Research, Messaging is now the dominant communication option among teens, with nothing else even coming close.
As such, Facebook - which owns both Messenger and WhatsApp - is likely building as much for what's coming as it is for what's happening right now. The communicative habits we develop in our formative years are exactly that, habitual, which means that as those younger users get more and more attuned to communicating via direct message, they'll also be more aligned to continuing that communication method in future - and given this, the importance of messaging is only going to grow.
And what's more, messaging is more personal, more direct. All of your purchase and interaction history is stored in a thread with each brand, which they can easily refer to for additional, personal insight and refinement in every transaction.
Now, you might not think that communication with brands via message will work for you - messaging has long been something that we've used for our more personal interactions, a lot of people might see brands stepping in on that territory as intrusive. But Facebook does already have a template for success in this regard - business via message is huge in China.
As per Wired:
"The Chinese have already shown what's possible: social media giant Tencent enables 600 million people each month to book taxis, check in for flights, play games, buy cinema tickets, manage banking, reserve doctors' appointments, donate to charity and video-conference all without leaving Weixin, the Chinese version of its WeChat app. "
Worth noting, WeChat is currently valued at around $US83.6 billion, largely because of those advanced eCommerce capabilities. Facebook paid $22 billion for WhatsApp back in 2014.
And while Facebook is clearly looking to take inspiration from their Asian comparatives, The Social Network has more ambitious goals in mind for their platform, with their ever-advancing AI features set to fuel a new level of bots, which may not be fully adaptive just now, but the systems are learning each day.
Facebook may have gone early with their bots platform, the hype may have been a little too much for them to live up to in the initial phases (Messenger chief David Marcus has admitted as much). But Messenger business is evolving, their Bot platform is advancing.
All brands should be paying attention to each step of the journey.
Messenger payments is currently in Beta testing with selected US users, with a wider rollout coming soon. Also, if you're looking for Messenger bot success stories, check out the Messenger Blog.