In recent months, Facebook's been talking up Messenger as the future of customer service, with Messenger Bots - automated response systems built on Facebook's advanced AI - seen as a key pillar of that evolution. Why Messenger, specifically? Because it's become one of the most popular apps in the world for connecting people, a status Facebook has underlined today with the announcement that Messenger has now hit 1 billion monthly active users.
To put that in perspective:
- Facebook - 1.65b MAU (source)
- Messenger - 1b MAU
- Instagram - 400m MAU (source)
- Twitter - 310m MAU (source)
- LinkedIn - 106m MAU (source)
- Pinterest - 100m MAU (source)
Of course, Messenger's not a social network as such - a fairer comparison would be with other messaging apps.
- Messenger 1b MAU
- WhatsApp - 1b MAU (source)
- WeChat - 700m MAU (source)
- QQ - 553 MAU (source)
- Kik - 275m total users (source)
- LINE - 218m MAU (source)
- Snapchat - 150m DAU (source)
- KakaoTalk - 50m MAU (source)
And while some of those figures are not like-for-like (Snapchat's MAU, for example, would be higher, but they haven't released that stat), it's pretty clear that direct messaging is currently owned by Facebook, holding the two top spots and only really seeing competition from China's Tencent, which owns both WeChat and QQ - and, importantly, which operates in a region that Facebook can't.
And Facebook's messaging dominance is a big deal - as underlined by Messenger's growth, the popularity of messaging apps has been increasing over time.
(Image via TechCrunch)
Now, a portion of that in Messenger's case, of course, relates to Facebook's controversial efforts to grow the app, which have essentially seen them force users to download it in order to utilize direct messaging among their Facebook friends, rather than keeping that function within the main Facebook app.
Many users were upset at this tactic - according to TechCrunch, shortly after announcement, Messenger became the number one app in The App Store, but only carried a 1-star review, on average. But even taking that into account, the push has worked - we're now seeing an increasing amount of people connecting via Messenger every day.
And Facebook's shifting the Messenger project into the next iteration of what the platform will become.
One of Messenger's big aims right now is to take over SMS.
At their recent F8 conference, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg noted that Facebook's now processing around 60 billion messages per day, which is 3x what global SMS volume was reaching, at peak.
As such, Messenger's already on track to become the platform for messaging, but people are still using native SMS services on their phones, and that's something Messenger wants to stamp out.
To tackle this, Facebook recently announced a new option for Android users to be able to use Messenger as their default messaging app, bypassing the native SMS platform completely.
(SMS conversations in Messenger on Android show up purple)
Facebook's also added new end-to-end encryption for messages to improve security and assure users it's safe to send private conversations via the platform.
And while they still have a way to go before they achieve ubiquity with Messenger, the numbers indicate that Facebook's on the right track. The balancing act, however, comes in how they add in new features and tools - including brand connection options - without making the platform feel less like a personal space.
Personalization at Scale
At therein lies the real strength of Messenger, and the real core of what Facebook needs to keep a handle on in the app's development. Direct messaging is personal, a personal space that people use for more private and intimate conversations. As such, messaging also afford brands the opportunity to build more personal, specialized interactions with customers - if done right.
This is one of the selling points of Messenger Bots, of which there are now more than 18,000 in operation (and many more in development) - through your interactions with Messenger Bots you're creating a message thread to refer to, a record of your past interactions with the brand, including purchase history, sizing info and other preferences. That provides an amazing opportunity for businesses to more easily personalize and refine the experience to your needs.
It's a fine line though between helpful and pushy, and reports thus far indicate that many brands have a long way to go in their bot development, but there will come a time where you'll have a set of bots that you can comfortably utilize and know that they'll provide you with quick, easy and accurate services. A bot for your local pizza store is a basic example, a bot for your favorite clothing outlet. The more refined and specific each bot can be built, the stickier that will also make your relationship with that business. Because they'll know you, they'll know what you want. They'll even be able to alert you to new products specifically relevant to your interests.
It's early days, but if Facebook can make Messenger the platform for all messaging, and facilitate the ongoing development of smarter, more intuitive bot systems, the potential of Messenger Bots is huge.
The only other element it'll require is a mindset shift, getting people to see Messenger as more than simply a way to stay in touch with friends - which Facebook are already tackling, as evident in the most recent Messenger update.
So why does this matter to you? Because Messenger is massive, and it presents an equally massive opportunity for brands.
Right now, bots are in the early stages of development, but it's not hard to see a time where they'll become the norm, then the expectation. As such, investigating and/or considering how Messenger could be incorporated into your marketing process is something all brands should be doing, right now.
Facebook's working to make it easier for users to connect with brands via message, adding user names and Messenger codes to improve discoverability.
Maybe you're not going to transform your business to a Messenger-originated focus overnight, but it's worth considering how you can utilize these tools to improve direct connection with your audience - and from that, then looking at what questions and queries you're getting via message, which could, in future, highlight where you might be able to use a bot service to handle such queries (where possible).
As noted, there's a way to go before Messenger becomes a crucial element, but those user growth figures can't be ignored - a billion people are using Messenger every month. When you consider also that less than 3.5 billion people in the world actually have access to an internet connection, that means almost 1 in every 3 people who are able to use Messenger, do so.
And another key consideration, according to Pew Research, messaging is the dominant form of communication among teens.
Even if it's not essential now, it may be in future. Worth considering in your ongoing outreach and marketing plans.