While Facebook Inc.’s Messenger grew its user base by roughly one-third over the past year to 1.2 billion users, the messaging platform’s major focus—driving consumers to interact with retailers’ chatbots on its platform—has largely failed to take root.
For instance, most consumers, 82.2%, have never used the platform to communicate with a brand, according to a recent survey by research firm Survata on behalf of digital marketing firm CPC Strategy. Just 5.7% have used Messenger to contact customer service and only 2.5% have used it to make a purchase.
Consumers’ tepid reaction to the rollout wasn’t unexpected and isn’t a problem, David Marcus, head of Facebook Messenger, said today at Facebook’s F8 developer conference. The past year has given businesses a year to build good bots first, and now he wants to make them easy to find.
“I’m glad we called it a beta,” he said. “Because we got a lot of attention for opening our platform, then right after we got a lot of attention for all the work we still had to do.”
The platform’s evolution is focused around making it easier for consumers to find retailers on the platform.
Messenger will now have a “Discover” tab highlighting businesses that people can connect with—real estate where advertisers will eventually be able to pay to reach Messenger’s 1.2 billion users. Messenger will also let businesses use its artificial intelligence software to give automated answers to basic questions, like hours of operation.
All this will help Marcus demonstrate a business model for Messenger, which has more users than Facebook’s Instagram but a much more nascent plan. While Instagram’s feed-based photo app could easily utilize a version of Facebook’s news feed advertising model, the chat application needed something built from scratch.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has told investors he’s not in any rush to make money from Messenger. But it couldn’t hurt: Facebook’s expenses are rising, and the company has decided to stop increasing the amount of advertising in its news feed, which could slow revenue growth.
For the last year, Facebook has been selling ads that direct people from the news feed into a chat with a business’s Messenger chatbot. Messenger has started to display more basic ads, too, on the main page with users’ chat histories.
There are more inventive ideas in the queue. Marcus mentioned a test program with the Golden State Warriors, where people visiting the NBA team’s stadium could use their phones to order food or merchandise to their seats by taking a picture of a code to prompt a chat about it.
Marcus says the business will start to get more interesting, in part, because people are using Messenger more frequently. The tool used to be part of the main Facebook product, where people associated it with contacting Facebook friends, instead of with texting.
“People are using Messenger as their primary communications platform, more and more,” Marcus said, “as opposed to this thing that you use for the friend you don’t have a phone number for.”
Bloomberg contributed to this report.Favorite