Here’s a just a short list of things you can do, or soon will be able to do, through Facebook Messenger: hail an Uber, chat with customer service, send money to your friends, buy a nice pair of red heels, and share Spotify playlists.
Yesterday, MarketingLand reported that Messenger will soon allow publishers to distribute content through what Wired aptly deemed “Zuckerberg’s app for everything.” Around the same time, Facebook will also open up the platform to advertisers, according to leaked documents obtained by TechCrunch in February.
Not only could these developments change the way we use the Internet, they could potentially revolutionize how publishers and marketers distribute their content. Messenger has a billion users and is the second-most popular app in the United States, thanks in large part to Facebook’s controversial decision to spin it off two years ago, which forced users to download the Messenger app separately if they want to chat on their mobile devices.1
The progression from social media to chat apps is perhaps the biggest change in the Internet since, well, social media. Chat apps already dominate in China, Japan, and much of Europe; Facebook controls the market here in North America. But it looks like 2016 will be the year Facebook tries to make Messenger integral to our digital lives.
However, it’s still unclear how publishers and advertisers will distribute content through a chat app. A few have already started experimenting—The Economist, for example, uses Line; Quartz also ran an interesting news experiment with iMessage—but any sort of concrete practice has yet to emerge. Plus, it remains to be seen if users actually enjoy getting their news through a chat window.
Monetization is also a huge question mark. When Facebook opens Messenger to advertisers, will publishers be able to control the ad experience like they can with Instant Articles? How much will advertisers be willing to pay? And will users be comfortable receiving ads in such an intimate setting?
Publishers have already expressed some dismay at the lack of control they have over their audience on Instant Articles—although most have already given up the fight. Using Messenger as a platform should bring up similar concerns, but it’s hard to imagine publishers turning their back on the potential reach of over 800 million people.
Marketers, meanwhile, are excited by Messenger’s potential for one-on-one interaction. Brand bots have already proven they can succeed on Kik, and e-commerce and customer service seem like natural functions of chat apps. More traditional advertising—sending interruptive ads like Quartz’s bot does—looks promising as well. But if brands ramp up these efforts too aggressively, it wouldn’t be surprising for users to tune them out once the novelty appeal fades.
It’s still going to take quite some time to know if that marketing potential leads to tangible results. WeChat rules in China, but in America, there’s still no universal chat app. If a majority of your friends don’t use an app regularly, you probably won’t either.
Messenger wants to be that go-to app, and Facebook is throwing around its considerable weight to turn that goal into a reality.