Can Facebook Messenger become an independent project?

The current head of Facebook Messenger, David Markus, is the former CEO of PayPal, resigned from his position in June 2014 to start working on Facebook. By his own admission, this change was due to the fact that Marcus was not interested in being the head of a public company.


He said that working on Facebook gave him the opportunity to put into practice his experience in the field of mobile technology, which would allow him to leave a larger mark on history, despite the fact that he has a relatively small team at his disposal.

A few weeks ago, Marcus made it clear that he sees Messenger as a modern version of the yellow pages directory, allowing people and businesses to find each other “without phone numbers” and conduct business.

Messenger and the yellow pages really have something in common: their future raises many questions.

Messenger as a topic for discussion

Facebook’s recent financial report was widely welcomed. The results of the second quarter are really impressive: the number of active users exceeded 2 billion, daily active users exceeded 1.3 billion, revenues increased by 45%, profits by 71%, and 87% of revenues fell on advertising and these are just some of the indicators. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg also noted in one of the previously prepared comments that Facebook plans to increase financial support for Messenger so that the application can accelerate with activation, audience growth, and, as a result, with monetization, which Zuckerberg stressed has just begun.

Not surprisingly, Facebook Messenger has become the main topic of discussion in the question and answer session. Analysts wanted to better understand the place of the messenger in the company's project portfolio, especially in the event that the profitability of advertising on Facebook begins to fall, and there is simply no place for new announcements in the news feed. One of the participants in the discussion even noticed how unusual it is for modern companies with a base of active users of more than a billion people not to have a monetization strategy and corresponding profits.

Mark Zuckerberg's answer to this and many other questions that were voiced that day was unchanged: Messenger is not on the list of “Facebook's short-term growth drivers.” He also added that other messenger platforms managed to create strong ecosystems, and Facebook itself successfully monetize its social network and Instagram, and therefore the company is confident that in the long term Messenger will come to the same results.

For several weeks before this, several round tables were held, during which Marcus spoke about the progress of Messenger, including about the newly launched “chips” and what impact bots had on increasing consumer interest in Messenger. It was during one of those interviews that Marcus drew an analogy with the yellow pages for business and the white pages for ordinary people, noting that if phones were invented in our time, people would not want to use telephone numbers to make contact. Instead, according to the head of Messenger, people would use digital contact pages, and all such pages would be collected in one convenient place with search capabilities.

It is such a place, according to its creators, and should be Messenger.

However, the achievement of this goal is not an easy task, since it requires changing the habitual attitude of consumers to Facebook, the habits of using Messenger and other platform messengers, not to mention the need to work out a plan that would take into account all these points.

Bragging and chatting with the general public

Facebook has evolved rapidly. More recently, a social network was a place where teenagers from colleges could meet and engage in communication with their peers from campus. And quite quickly, Facebook turned into a great online mouthpiece for broadcasting information about everything that people wanted to boast about for the entire social network. Pretty soon, news feeds flooded photos of graduation, family holidays, meetings of schoolmates, fathers who have just run a marathon, mothers celebrating birthdays or weddings of friends.

In general, that part of personal life, which can be put on public display.

Almost immediately, an online mouthpiece got the following layer: brands were able to post their ads on the social network. Today, this advertisement is seen by as many as 1.3 billion people who view their news feed daily. Therefore, now, looking at photos from your friend's party in the pool, you get the opportunity to find out in parallel the entire story of J. Lo and A-Rod from the relevant material of People magazine, read several stories of animal rescue from , which can melt even the coldest heart, see videos from Gwyneth Paltrow, who is putting another product of Goop's own cosmetic brand on his face, as well as seeing an advertisement of a whole heap of retailers and spice up the whole thing with recipes from the Food Network.

It must, however, be understood that the messaging platform is another matter.

Consumers use them to share private, not intended most of the information with another interlocutor or a small group of people who know each other and are specially retired in their own private Internet corner. Sending a text message is not only a more urgent method of communication, but also more suitable for discussing sensitive topics between friends or family members, regardless of how quickly you need to deliver a message.

Today, brands have begun to use text messages to inform about the status of the order, its confirmation, reminder of a visit to the doctor or the need for re-prescribing. All this happens with the prior permission of the consumers themselves. Friends use messaging platforms to send each other links to buy things or arrange a meeting place. OS-based messengers also make it possible to reserve a place in OpenTable, call Uber, or even order a pizza right during chatting.

In contrast to the situation with mailboxes or news feeds, in the case of messengers, the chances that brands will persuade you to buy something without your prior consent are extremely small, because regulators will not pat such companies over the head for such actions. As a result, messaging platforms are cleaner because they have significantly less spam. Their content is several times more focused on the needs of the user.

However, such a division into public and personal components did not stop many, including Marcus and his team, from attempts to create that very single place, within which communication not only between current friends, but also between consumers and brands will become commonplace.

Just like Tencent did with WeChat.

Attempts to repeat this model outside of China face one problem: the cultural uniqueness of the country where WeChat came into being. And besides, consumers in other countries have a rather large selection of alternatives.

Tencent began its existence as QQ - an instant messaging and gaming platform running on desktop computers. Its main base was a formed network of customers who used this platform to communicate with each other. When Tencent began the transition to the mobile sphere and WeChat became the main application, the company had to convince QQ users to download the WeChat application and start using it. Anyway, the majority of users switched to a new product, because Tencent simply did not have strong competitors, and they did not want to refuse all the advantages offered by Tencent. Over time, more functions and chips were added to the ecosystem, turning it into a single center, whose users could communicate with friends, make new ones, as well as interact with brands and pay for their purchases.

As in the case of Tencent and QQ, after separating from Facebook, Messenger had the serious task of attracting users to download a new separate application. When Messenger was integrated into Facebook, it was very easy to open a new chat window right on the social network and write something to your friends. You could see who is online now and start chatting.

But in practice, friends on Facebook often have several other channels of communication: telephone messengers, LinkedIn, mail, and many other competitors who are selecting Facebook's audience, such as Instagram, WhatsApp, and Snapchat. Therefore, the transition to Messenger was not easy, especially for users of the developed US and UK markets, which, according to the developers themselves, are very important for the application. Refusal to download Messenger did not lead to loss of contact with his circle of contacts, but only meant that the user would now have to use other channels of communication more often. And after Messenger, it fell into the category of applications that are easier to remove, so that they do not take up too much space on the smartphone's home screen and do not bother with their notifications.

It would seem that these problems are enough, but Messenger has a new obstacle on his way.

It is known that consumers in developed countries form for themselves a certain ecosystem of applications that they regularly use on their phones. It is fair to say that they do not download many new applications, but do not skimp on installing those that they like to use. Usually, this set includes Uber, Amazon, , Chrome, PayPal, Yelp, banking application, OpenTable, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and, for example, the same Messenger, among other things. And they use each of these applications when it seems to them that it is most suitable for satisfying certain needs, such as communicating with friends, broadcasting news to a wide audience of people with whom they have not seen for years, searching for new products and places, interaction with brands and payment of purchases.

Changing this behavior and expecting users to start using Messenger as a starting point for finding people, brands and shopping looks like an unattainable goal, no matter how many new commercial bots will be launched on the platform.

Apparently, Facebook’s willingness to invest as much money for as long as it takes, until it happens, will not help either. Time today is a currency that innovators — even authoritative platforms like Facebook — should spend wisely.

Of course, one cannot exclude the possibility that such an intermediary application, which simplifies many different actions, will be born sooner or later. However, it should be noted that such applications already exist now. Users often use Amazon as a starting point for online shopping, Google as a starting point for searching and native instant messengers, as well as Instagram and WhatsApp to communicate with friends. Conversational interfaces such as Alexa, Allo, Bixby and Cortana help users communicate with each other and establish communication with brands and businesses. Apparently, they represent the most attractive way for consumers to gain access to various brands, applications and websites, since they are already willing to use them .

It is easy to trace that this is exactly the article for which businesses allocate a large part of the budget. It seems that the bots bubble (in the context of commerce) really burst, as predicted in my material a year ago.

With all this, since 2014 and the moment when Marcus joined the company, the number of active users of Messenger has more than doubled. In addition, Messenger is one of the most popular applications all over the world, despite considerable competition in all its regions. Many of the people I surveyed use it for quite specific reasons: to communicate with friends from other countries or to communicate with a network of friends, all communications with which take place mainly on Facebook.

Messenger’s recent steps seem to be aimed at replicating the experience of other platforms, such as introducing filters like Snap. Facebook’s efforts to make Messenger a convenient place for brands to communicate with their customers look more like an initiative that Facebook needs more than Messenger users. In addition, advertising appearing in the application is a very risky way to monetize, but the development team seems ready to go for it, since they now simply have no other real ways.

Facebook’s decision to separate Messenger into its own application looks interesting, making it inaccessible to Facebook users until they download it. According to Marcus, this step was necessary, because without it, Messenger would never become a separate platform. And this platform apparently was conceived by Facebook as a kind of bridge connecting the company with the world of commerce.

Due to the fact that WeChat started as a social network, as well as the absence of equally convenient alternatives, the application managed to quickly jump from simply sending messages and games to buying things and ordering a taxi through the instant messenger. Facebook for all these years has failed to jump this “abyss”, despite numerous efforts. A few years ago there was material that the reason why residents of developed countries came to Facebook (at the time of writing) was the ability to “track” changes in the lives of their friends, rather than buying from brands that they liked then.

Later, the fact that consumers do not trust Facebook as a kind of "window" into the world of shopping, found confirmation in the results of the May study . Only 8% of consumers reported then that they view Facebook as a kind of centralized entry point into the world of shopping and trust it in this regard.

Will the separation of Messenger and Facebook somehow affect this state of affairs? Messenger is hardly able to become something like WeChat or lay the foundation for a commercial ecosystem for Facebook, or become a major and independent advertising engine. It seems that in nature there is simply no such phenomenon that could help Messenger to become that “single center”.



All Articles