Facebook used its F8 developer conference to announce two significant advancements for Facebook Messenger: the introduction of the Messenger Platform and the preview of Businesses on Messenger. Together with last week’s announcement that the social network had added a P2P payments capability to Facebook Messenger, the F8 news confirms Ovum’s long-held view that Facebook Messenger is aiming to become Facebook’s key mobile platform for content and commerce as well as communications. This is unlike Facebook’s other mobile messaging services, WhatsApp and Instagram – WhatsApp has consistently stated that it does not intend to become a platform for content delivery, and Instagram has remained tightly focused on the sharing of photos and videos.
Facebook takes first strides, but there is more work to be done
Facebook’s decision to open up its Facebook Messenger APIs to third-party developers for the creation of content and apps is a vital step in the evolution of the messaging service, which has to date lagged behind competitive offerings from the likes of Line, Kakao, and Tencent (WeChat). Ovum understands that, despite monthly active users now standing at 600 million, user engagement with Facebook Messenger has fallen since the decoupling of the mobile app from the social network in 2014. By making the Messenger Platform available to developers for the creation of apps designed to enhance the user experience, Facebook aims to once again increase engagement.
The apps initially available via the Messenger Platform are still quite limited compared to those offered by the competition – they are mainly focused on enabling Facebook Messenger users to add GIFs, photos, videos, audio clips, and content to their messages. Facebook has likely chosen to limit its initial offerings in order to gauge the extent to which such services will be popular globally; it’s also possible that the social network will provide localized apps at a later stage. However, it’s still a solid start for Facebook, which states that it already has more than 40 developer partners for Messenger Platform, including ESPN, Giphy, JibJab, Meme Generator, Stickered, The Weather Channel, and Wordeo.
Given Facebook Messenger’s 600 million MAUs – an increase of 100 million since November 2014 – Facebook will have no shortage of interest from developers, which means a substantially expanded roster of apps will soon be available for Facebook Messenger. Developers will be able to tap into a viral marketing capability via the platform – a message that contains content from a third-party app will also include information about the app and an install button. A key challenge for Facebook will be ensuring that the apps associated with the Facebook Messenger Platform are high quality and will engage users.
Most of the initial apps appear to be free to download, which will help promote user uptake. The ability for developers to reach a massive audience, combined with their capacity to include in-app purchasing, should negate any concerns they may have about not being able to directly generate revenues. There is also the possibility that paid-for apps will appear in future iterations.
Meanwhile, Facebook has taken a slightly different approach from the Messenger rivals for the Businesses on Messenger capability. Instead of providing businesses with Twitter-like “Official Accounts” (as per Line) – which initially enabled marketing and promotions and then added payments – Facebook is focusing on the customer relationship aspect of transactions. The company is integrating the ability of businesses to communicate with customers via Messenger into their existing online purchasing process. But since Facebook clearly has ambitions in payments, it is difficult to see how the integration of communications won’t be a lead-in to the eventual integration of some kind of fully fledged commerce offering.
Social Media Tracker: 4Q14, TE0003-000839 (March 2015)
“As Facebook closes its acquisition of WhatsApp, expect to see VoIP and more MVNO-type deals,” TE0003-000803 (October 2014)
“Facebook risks alienating users to grow Messenger app’s reach,” ME0002-000518 (May 2014)
Pamela Clark-Dickson, Principal Analyst, Consumer Services