It’s a perennial issue for those of us with smartphones: Do you text someone first at the risk of appearing too eager, or play it cool and wait for them to initiate?
Advertisers, that poor lot, will soon be in the same boat.
In a few months
This will be an extremely sensitive process for Facebook, which doesn’t yet make money from Messenger. Around 800 million people use Messenger and for the most part, they chat to friends and family with it only.
A sudden introduction of messages from brands would be jarring or worse, feel like spam, or even worse, send them flocking to other messaging platforms like Telegram or Kik.
Kik, a popular messaging app with teens, already has around 80 businesses pinging users with rudimentary chat bots.
I got a ping just yesterday from Burger King on Kik, offering me vouchers-on-demand for chicken nuggets and milkshakes. I had started chatting to the Burger King bot in early January, so we had a budding relationship.
But this is the hard thing about advertising on a messaging app: right now a person using the app has to seek out brands and start chatting to them. And I was only chatting to Burger King because of my research for a story on chat bots.
I dismissed Burger King’s voucher message on my phone, but still, it was a big step for the fast-food chain as far as engaging with me. It got right there on my lock screen — prime real estate for an advertiser — even though I was one of billions of people who had never bothered to download the Burger King app. And it did so on an app that I had conditioned myself to like: I associated Kik with friends and family.
“Teenagers and young adults grew up with
Still, Facebook will be making a big ask of its users when it eventually puts ads on Messenger. Sure, it has successfully squeezed ads into its main site via Pages and the Newsfeed, but ads work on Facebook because we’re passively consuming other people’s content anyway. On Messenger you’re chatting as well as consuming, and in a smaller, more personal space.
That’s why it’s taken so long for Facebook to even tentatively bring ads onto Messenger. They’re slated for the second quarter of this year, more than a year after Facebook launched Messenger for Business.
Since then, only around two dozen businesses have been working with Facebook to chat with customers on the platform, according to Frerk-Malte Feller, who runs Business on Messenger at Facebook. He told me these companies include
You can chat with a customer service agent from Everlane through Messenger right now. One or two employees handle queries from around 200 customers each day, and most queries are about tracking an already-placed order.
You can’t pay for Everlane’s products on Messenger yet, because Facebook hasn’t plugged in a payments-system for businesses.
But Feller says it shouldn’t be all about buying stuff on Messenger anyway. He talks about the chat platform giving businesses an “ongoing, canonical thread” of conversation they can have with customers; the ability to build relationships in a world gone “increasingly transactional.”
“The same things that you value in the communication with friends and family, that becomes true for business,” says Feller, “and it becomes better for them to understand customer needs.”
So long as that canon of messages doesn’t start to look like the spam of an annoying friend, family member or cold-caller, this could give Facebook the step it wants towards a whole new revenue stream.