With 45 million small businesses active on Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), the social network has become a large piece of many business' online presence. And more and more businesses are using all of the tools available to them on Facebook, including Messenger. In an interview at TechCrunch Disrupt, Facebook's ad chief, Andrew Bosworth, said some companies now use Messenger as their primary place to receive customer-service requests.
Facebook wants to make it as easy as possible for businesses to start using Messenger, which it believes will have a long-term positive impact on its ability to monetize Messenger as well as help businesses perform their services better.
Click to message
Facebook's recent update to Pages focuses on a businesses call to action by placing it just under the header image on mobile. One of the options for that call to action is "click to message," which opens up a new chat in Messenger with the business.
Boz told TechCrunch that Facebook is working on converting those call to actions into ad units, so one ad product could ask its viewers to start a conversation with the business. It's easy to see how this kind of product could provide immense value to businesses. It allows them to interact directly with the customer, answering questions, and really selling them on their product or service.
Indeed, many businesses have already stepped up their presence on Messenger. Boz said messaging via Pages has doubled in each of the last two years. Using it for things such as answering customer service requests can save companies money over traditional phone and email systems. Using it to actually sell products is much less common, though.
But Facebook wants to help businesses drive commerce through Messenger -- because, ultimately, that's how it's going to make money off the messaging app's 700 million users. To that end, the revamped Pages it released a few weeks ago is aimed at allowing businesses and consumers to interact via Messenger. Businesses can respond to wall posts with Messenger now, and Facebook will place a badge on pages that are quick to respond to messages.
Filling in the other half of the equation
CEO Mark Zuckerberg told investors that the key to monetizing Messenger is to get more businesses on Messenger. But that's really only half of it. The other half is that you have to get Facebook users used to the idea of interacting with businesses on Messenger.
That's where the new click-to-message ad units may come in handy. They will drive users directly into conversation with a business on Messenger. If that business provides a good service -- answering questions, making suggestions, perhaps providing a discount code or some other incentive -- users are more likely to seek out interactions with other businesses on Messenger.
Facebook is working to do some of those tasks itself. It's experimenting with a virtual assistant called M, which uses a combination of artificial intelligence and a human customer service team that helps train that AI. M can book reservations or order packages for you, and it can even make recommendations. M is another way users can get used to interacting with businesses and transacting commerce through Messenger.
Putting these two pieces together will let Facebook do what it does best and connect businesses with potential customers on Messenger. The mechanism for doing so may be through M, or it may simply be the upcoming click to message ads.
Facebook has made significant progress toward monetizing Messenger this year, even though it still doesn't have any revenue to show for it. Like all Facebook products, the company is taking its time with building up the proper user base and behaviors before it flips the switch to turn it into a cash machine. With the growing number of interactions between businesses and users on Messenger, Facebook will continue fostering that behavior until it reaches a size that can provide meaningful revenue for the company.