Since Facebook debuted its bot platform for Messenger in April of this year, the messaging app has been flooded with some 33,000 chat bots. But after six months at market, they're still largely unproven. Many Messenger bots are clunky and difficult to use, and those that aren't can be difficult to find. Now Facebook is moving to change that with some tactical product tweaks rolling out today.
The first tweak is a simple one: News Feed advertisements designed to engage you in conversation with a chat bot. Let's say H&M is touting a new line of winter coats in a Facebook ad campaign. Instead of directing people interested in the coats to H&M's website or the H&M app, these ads would put them in conversation with Messenger's H&M chat bot, which could answer questions about the coats and potentially orchestrate an in-app sale. These ads roll out globally today.
Facebook's second tweak, sponsored messages, also rolls out globally today. These are exactly what they say on the tin: branded in-Messenger messages sent to Messenger users by advertisers they've interacted with in the past. Together with bot-integrated News Feed ads, these new products offer developers opportunities to more proactively engage people on Facebook.
"We now have the ability to drive massive traffic to bots through News Feed," Facebook Messenger head David Marcus told BuzzFeed News, "and that's great for developers." Marcus noted that these new products have worked well in test runs. Absolut Vodka, for example, recently used a bot-integrated News Feed ad as part of a vodka giveaway campaign. Marcus said the company found that acceptance rates on Messenger were three times what they were on the mobile web.
Which is not to say that Facebook views sponsored messages or bot-integrated News Feed ads as a huge business opportunity. Indeed, Marcus cautioned that while they will certainly increase Facebook's ad capacity, they're probably not going to drive ad load growth. "Sponsored Messages probably are not going to be big," he said, "but they're a needed capability." And a crucial piece of Facebook's strategy to cash in on the purchase intent inspired on its platform. Think of it this way: Facebook views News Feed as a place to discover things you want to buy, and it's conceived of Messenger as the place where you actually buy them.
Facebook has other plans for Messenger as well, though none that Marcus was willing to discuss in detail. Asked if we might someday see Messenger crib features from Snapchat in a manner similar to what Facebook did with Instagram and WhatsApp, Marcus declined to answer, but then observed that messaging is becoming more visual and his team is experimenting with new stuff all the time. "We have more and more photos that are shared inside of Messenger every day,” he said. “So are we actually working on stuff that will make messaging more visual across the board? Sure."