Last week I was in San Jose for Facebook's annual developer conference, F8. I've been going to F8 for over a decade, so it's always a great opportunity to catch up with old friends and Facebook contacts.
This year was one of the most exciting from the perspective of brands who are investing in messaging as a way to connect with consumers, whether for customer care, commerce, or marketing.
While Facebook has certainly had a turbulent year, their response has been to make a major shift towards a private, secure, messaging-based future. This is great for all Facebook users while making it easier for brands to use messaging as a way to securely interact and transact with consumers. And there's no doubt that business messaging is growing strongly: Facebook announced that there are now 20 billion messages sent every month between businesses and consumers on Messenger up from 10 billion last October (100% growth in 6 months!), and just 2 billion in April 2017.
Mark Zuckerberg opened the keynote by saying "Today is all about building a privacy-focused platform". He went on to share six key principles which are now guiding everything that Facebook is doing:
Over the course of the conference, Facebook went on to share how these were steering them as they double down on key themes around messaging, commerce, and payments. It was great to see Conversocial featured multiple times throughout the conference, with a video of our President, Ido Bornstein-HaCohen, featured in the keynote, and case studies presented of Conversocial customers, Sephora and Volaris.
The lack of encryption in Messenger has historically been one of the challenges that have held brands back from investing into it as a primary channel to engage with their customers. This was shown clearly with the launch of WhatsApp Business—the end-to-end encryption in WhatsApp meant that Conversocial customers were much more confident in handling customer information and discussing private account based issues.
Given this background, it's great for business messaging that end-to-end encryption is becoming the default for all Messenger conversations. Additionally, Messenger itself is getting a number of updates to make it far faster, along with dedicated desktop apps for every major platform, which will make it a better experience for consumers and even more powerful as a channel for connecting with brands.
The Messenger team also shared new functionality enabling secure and frictionless user authentication, enabling businesses to take PII (e.g account and password information) over encrypted fields that don't pass Facebook's servers. This has been a big request from major brands and will make it much easier for our customers to do account-linking on Messenger, opening up more opportunities for in-depth service resolution and commerce opportunities.
The Messenger team presented an insightful case study of how Conversocial customer, Volaris, doubled down on messaging as a channel to connect with their customers: over 80% of all customer contacts Volaris receives are now over messaging, completely replacing chat and email and significantly reducing phone calls over the last year. We are approaching a tipping point where every brand offers messaging as the primary way for their customers to connect with them, and brands like Volaris are leading the way!
A number of updates to WhatsApp Business were announced and shown over the conference, including verified business accounts, product catalogs (enabling you to show different products available on your business page, great for either retail or food), and frictionless payments (which have been tested in India).
Payments are especially exciting—commerce is one of the biggest opportunities for messaging, and it needs frictionless payments to really be successful. By having checkout fully integrated into the messaging experience, brands can use messaging for any range of transactions—paying a bill, buying flowers, or making a flight upgrade. Our clients (like 1-800-Flowers.com) are already seeing success with commerce on Messenger, and I'm excited to roll this out across WhatsApp as well.
Facebook also showed an example of 'quick replies' in WhatsApp. Right now, all WhatsApp responses are in plain text; with quick replies, buttons can be presented to the user, making it easier, for example, to choose among a product or flight selection. These will make automated experiences more powerful and effective and brings WhatsApp more into line with other business messaging platforms.
Instagram is also doubling down on commerce, with a new shopping tab, and 'checkout' (seamless payments for products bought inside Instagram) rolling out to more brands. Instagram is one of the fastest growing platforms for e-commerce, with both ads and organic content working to drive direct product purchases. They didn't announce anything specific about Instagram Business Messaging, although they've said before that this will be coming in 2019. I'm really excited for this to launch—just as ten years ago web chat had a huge impact on e-commerce, increasing conversion rates by enabling consumers to easily ask questions about products and delivery, business messaging on Instagram will have the same effect for Instagram Shopping.
Instagram is also experimenting with removing follower and like counts, to help shift the focus away from engagement and more towards real human engagement. If they can do this while still retaining user engagement it will be a huge signal to the industry and a positive move from a digital addiction perspective. It could reduce the power of influencers however, who currently play a major role in product promotion on Instagram.
Messenger is now opening up as a customer acquisition channel with new 'click-to-message' ads in Facebook which can link to automated Messenger experiences. Conversocial was in the beta for this functionality, and Facebook showed a case study of Conversocial customer Sephora using click-to-message ads to sign customers up for an in-store appointment. Sephora found that the combination of click-to-message ads and an automated appointment bot enabled 60% more appointments to be booked over Messenger vs their web campaigns, with 42% more people showing up to the appointments, a huge increase in advertising effectiveness.
The ability to use messaging for customer acquisition, commerce, and customer care, with a single persistent conversation is incredibly powerful. At every touchpoint you know who the customer is and all of their historical interactions, allowing brands to always deliver completely personalized interactions in a conversational experience.
Facebook's AI team spent a lot of time sharing the huge advancements they've made in using deep learning to help with content moderation, and the effort they are making to reduce AI bias and ensure that their algorithms are as fair as possible. As a giant platform with billions of users and an incredible amount of content being uploaded every day, this is not an easy task, and it's great to see Facebook taking it seriously.
It was also great to see the continuous innovation that Facebook has been making with their Oculus products. I had a lot of fun testing out Stormland on the Oculus Rift S. But I’m actually most excited about the launch of Oculus Quest, which is the first product enabling full high-quality VR gaming without the need for a powerful gaming computer. I think this will be a tipping point for virtual reality, taking it mainstream for the first time. 2019: the year of business messaging, and virtual reality!
If you're interested in learning more about how you can use business messaging for customer acquisition, commerce, and customer care, reach out today.