Mark Zuckerberg realized some time ago that in order to grow his social networking behemoth to ever greater proportions, he had to do more than just bring more people into the confines of Facebook’s blue borders. So he’s sprinkled small gateways to the Facebook universe all over the web, with features like Facebook Connect, Like buttons, Activity feeds and more recently, special plugins, or small pieces of software code, that businesses can easily add to their websites.
Last night Facebook unveiled new software that could be critical to expanding the remit of Facebook’s Messenger platform to businesses. It allows businesses who already have a Facebook plugin on their site to also integrate a Facebook Messenger box. Essentially, customers can now visit a website — more likely than not though their smartphone — and find a box on the page that allows them to chat or send messages to a customer services representative through Messenger.
It’s a little like the Live Chat feature you’ll already find on some sites, which small-and-medium sized businesses can often pay around $100 a month for. Facebook doesn’t charge businesses to use Plugins on their sites so this free alternative to a live chat feature could be attractive for companies.
It should also be attractive for consumers. Facebook Messenger has more than 700 million monthly active users around the world who are largely comfortable with the platform. It’s why small businesses like Rare Pink, a London based vendor of bespoke diamond rings, now regularly uses WhatsApp (owned by Facebook) to communicate with customers.
There is no “WhatsApp for business” feature that such companies can use, but plenty of restaurants in Hong Kong or merchants in India will use the app to communicate with customers anyway, because of its ubiquity. Rare Pink says many of its customers prefer using WhatsApp over the live chat feature installed on its official site, or even email, because it’s easy and familiar.
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Facebook already allows people to message a small company or organization through a Facebook page, but for many people who want to contact a business they’re just as likely to look up their details via a Google Search, and get to their main site. The new plugin thus allows Facebook to keep a stake in those interactions even when neither party is on Facebook itself.
The move is also another step in Facebook’s courtship with businesses, which kicked off at the F8 developers conference in March 2015 with the launch of Businesses on Messenger. Facebook initially partnered with a few e-commerce firms, including clothing site Overland and deals site Zulily, allowing them to send customers notifications about shipments or to make transactions on Messenger.
Chat apps like Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, Kik and WeChat will probably make more money from fostering business-to-consumer communication, than through other features like money transfer or digital stickers. According to market research firm Juniper Research, we’ll see more banks and security firms using such platforms over time because of their reliability, popularity and ease of use.
Earlier this year Facebook rolled out a peer-to-peer payments feature for Facebook users in select cities in the U.S., which mimicked a similar payments service from mobile app Venmo. As of yet the service has not developed into a widely-available payments feature for retailers on Facebook Messenger.