Facebook Messenger has come a long way since vice president of messaging products David Marcus left his post as president of PayPal to join the social network in June 2014.
Marcus shared six trends that he believes will emerge for the messaging application in 2018 in a note published on Facebook Tuesday. Those trends were:
Marcus said Facebook will continue to invest in real-time communications, highlighting its importance both for happy occasions and in times of crisis.
Facebook includes features such as voice calling, video calling, group video calling, video chat and Instant Video in its definition of “real-time communications,” but it would not provide further details on its investment plans in this area.
Doing more together
Facebook’s emphasis on groups is not lost on its messaging app, as Marcus discussed recent and future advances in group chat on Messenger, including 4K photo quality and live video group chat.
He wrote, “Messenger group chats already have lots of features like the ability to react to an individual message, the option to mention someone, add and remove people seamlessly, customization tools—but we have more in store for this year.”
Messenger already has advantages over group messages on iMessage, which do not offer admin privileges or the ability to leave chats.
Facebook would not offer further details on what is “in store” for 2018, other than to say that it is doubling down on things that are working well for its users.
However, the social network began testing a stand-alone group video chat iOS app called Bonfire in Denmark last September, saying on the iTunes App Store page for the app: “Bonfire is the group video chat app that lets you connect instantly with friends and meet new ones. See who’s hanging out and instantly start video chatting with your friends. Express yourself with effects and take pictures of your video chats to share on Instagram, Facebook, Messenger and more. From catching up to doing homework, Bonfire is the best place to get together with your friends.”
The App Store listing also said video chatting was available with up to eight people and their friends, and other features included masks, landscape mode and iPad compatibility.
Bonfire is still not available via the iTunes App Store in the U.S., but the possibility exists that Facebook could incorporate some of its features into Messenger.
Simplify to delight
Marcus said that as a result of the addition of so many new features, “the app became too cluttered. Expect to see us invest in massively simplifying and streamlining Messenger this year.”
He also told Josh Constine of TechCrunch, “Over the past two years, we built a lot of capabilities to find the features that continue to set us apart. A lot of them have found their product market fit; some haven’t.”
The goal is to make sure it’s easy for people on Messenger to access the features they want to use while communicating via the app.
Snapchat took similar steps in late November, releasing a complete overhaul of its messaging app.
While the major news in Snapchat’s revamping was the addition of an algorithm to curate content, much like that of Facebook’s News Feed, its separation of “the social from the media” and introduction of its dynamic friends page were aimed at simplifying the experience for its users.
Generation Z is a vital demographic for messaging apps, and Vandita Pendse, 17, Gen Z product guru at tech startup Genies, shared her opinion on Messenger features that she finds useful, not so useful and in need of some improvement.
Pendse said Messenger features she uses often include suggestions for GIFs and stickers, Reactions (“It has become a huge habit”), nicknames, conversation names, conversation emojis, calling and access to shared photos (“One of the features I use most, and it is super convenient, as you have relatively easy access to pictures that were sent to you months ago”).
On the other hand, she rarely or never uses:
- Photo button: “We don’t use Facebook Messenger to share photos. We use it mainly for larger group chats and for casual conversations. Snapchat is still the primary manner of sharing photos.”
- Games and Discover: “I’ve never seen anyone use Discover, and it is pretty prominently displayed on the home screen. Games is rarely used and shouldn’t be shown so prominently given its lack of utility.”
- Make Plan: Pendse said, “It irritates people because it automatically pops up when you don’t want it,” adding that most people use Google Calendar to make formal plans.
- Add Story: Pendse is not a fan of Stories being so prominently placed within the app, saying, “I hate the ‘add story’ button at the top because I accidentally click it a lot and never want to use it. People don’t use Facebook Stories, and Messenger should stop pushing this feature because it is highly unlikely that people will consistently use Snapchat, Instagram Stories and Facebook to post stories.”
Finally, Pendse shared some feature suggestions for the Messenger team:
- Add the ability to search within conversations: “It is super useful when you are trying to find a particular piece of information, such as the time and location of when you’re meeting someone or a homework assignment—the possibilities are endless.”
- Add the ability to display all unread messages at the top of the list or add an unread tab.
- Make it just as easy to add GIFs, stickers and emojis as it currently is to add photos. She said, “They are part of what makes Messenger unique, so it’s important to capitalize on them.”
- Add the ability to access Facebook directly via Messenger.
- Add the ability to see shared files to the already existing ability to see shared photos.
- Reflect conversation colors on the app’s homepage.
- Send location: “Its placement is a little unintuitive. In this case, Messenger should copy iMessage, because people are used to the format of sending their locations through iMessage. They should show this feature once you click on the conversation name, on the same screen as notifications and shared photos.”
Getting way more visual
Marcus was bullish on this topic, writing, “I predict that 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. And Messenger Kids is a visual-first app: Parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles can video chat with kids as if they were face-to-face (depending on who you ask, video chatting can be better than face-to-face if you use the right funny filter.) Not only will you see more from Messenger in visual messaging this year, but this is where the industry is heading, and we won’t be looking back.”
Facebook addressed Messenger’s progress on the visual messaging front in its year-in-review Newsroom post for the messaging app, saying:
- People shared more than 500 billion emojis on Messenger in 2017, or nearly 1.7 billion per day.
- More than 18 billion GIFs were shared last year.
- More than 11 billion Reactions were shared since the feature launched on Messenger in March.
Facebook would not offer any further details on its visual messaging plans for Messenger in 2018, but a source familiar with the Messenger team pointed out that all of the social network’s apps are emphasizing visual first, and that its engineering team generally digs deeper into features that are already available and continues to add on to them.
Customer service will transform into customer care
The introduction of Messenger bots as part of the April 2016 debut of Messenger Platform and their continued development, as well as the rollout of Chat Extensions, has propelled Messenger onto the list of channels that customers and potential customers are using to contact companies with their issues or questions.
Marcus cited a Nielsen survey commissioned by Facebook, saying that 56 percent of respondents would rather message a business than contact its customer-service department via telephone, and 67 percent expect to do so even more over the next two years.
He wrote, “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 upsell opportunity to benefit both people and the business. Look for more creative ways that we’ll evolve Messenger as a true customer-care channel in 2018, but even more important, this is clearly where the industry is moving as it not only benefits the growth of the business, but frees up customer-care agents to support the business in other, more productive ways.”
Globe Telecom, one of the largest telecommunications companies in the Philippines, teamed up with customer-service bot provider Servicefriend to develop Gie, a hybrid bot experience that enabled more natural conversations with customers and learned when to involve customer-service representatives in the process.
Social customer-service platform Conversocial was one of the early adopters of Messenger as a customer-service tool, and its co-founder and CEO, Joshua March, said, “Messenger has really invested into customer service functionality, including the launch of its Messenger Customer Chat functionality, which has already replaced traditional web chat at a number of our clients, and this is contributing to its rapid rise”
He continued, “After the initial hype on bots, when a lot of companies rushed to experiment and found themselves disappointed, brands are starting to figure out how to use bot capabilities to drive real value—whether for driving acquisitions or increasing customer-service efficiency, for example by building out visual IVRs [interactive voice response systems] and menu systems that lead to a human agent. As a result, I expect to see the majority of brands moving from experimentation to rolling out real automation capabilities in Messenger this year.”
Facebook would not comment on customer-service plans for Messenger going forward.
Messaging as a marketing channel: No longer ‘if,’ but ‘when’
Marcus pointed to wider adoption of Messenger by larger brands including Lego, Katy Perry and Apple Music, adding, “Look for investment in rich messaging experiences not only from global brands, but small businesses that need to be creative and nimble to stay competitive.”
And a source familiar with Facebook’s Messenger team said the social network expects 2018 to be the year when marketers begin setting aside portions of their ad spend budgets for Messenger.
Mobile carrier T-Mobile has already tested out the waters on this front. In its Messenger promotion pushing Apple’s new iPhone X, its Messenger bot asked users if they were interested in upgrading their plans, or in purchasing earbuds.
One possible way for small businesses to “be creative and nimble” is a self-service option in the form of the Messenger Broadcast test that was discovered last November.
Based on screenshots that Twitter user @phwd shared with The Next Web director of social media Matt Navarra, pages that are in the test group were able to compose messages for mass-broadcast containing the following elements:
- A welcome message.
- The main message, which can be image and text, video and text or text-only. (The recommended image size is 1,200 pixels by 628 pixels.)
- A message title.
- A message subtitle.
- A call to action in the form of a suggested reply.
Facebook would not offer any further details.
Dana Gibber, co-founder and chief operating officer of Headliner Labs, an artificial intelligence and mobile messaging company that specializes in chat bots for e-commerce, retail and entertainment, had some ideas.
She said, “Brands should view mobile messaging as a primary communication channel to send relevant information and offers to customers. In some ways, you can think of this as email’s smarter, stronger, more potent new counterpart. As customers engage with a company on Messenger, they are added to that company’s list in much the similar way an email list grows. Some of the potency comes from the channel itself: Our data shows that people are 3.5 times more likely to open a Messenger message than a marketing email.”
Gibber added, “This is a two-way channel where users can actually respond and move down a funnel (all the way through purchasing) dictated by their preferences and responses, instead of a one-way megaphone for a company. Messages can include relevant images (like what was abandoned in cart), videos (like product tutorials) and other relevant content dictated by customer segmentation.”