Facebook says in the future consumers will no longer need a contact number to reach brands, as Facebook Messenger will act like a Yellow Pages and allow people to search using the app.
“Facebook Messenger will act like a whitepaper or Yellow Pages. You’ll be able to search for people in Messenger and you won’t need a phone number. People will be able to contact businesses straight through the platform,” David Marcus, head of messenger at Facebook, said at a press roundtable yesterday (29 June).
Marcus believes that if phones were only being introduced today, it would be “very unlikely” they would have numbers and that it makes much more sense to be able to call a person or business through their digital contact page.
His comments tie in with Facebook Messenger’s introduction of Snapchat- style filters, video add-ons and group calling. It is also rolling out its Discover function in the US, which allows users to use chatbots to communicate with businesses. This will be introduced in the UK in coming weeks.
Marcus explained the changes to Messenger were made in response to consumer demand, with a growing number of people active on the platform. The tech giant claims this number currently stands at 1.2 billion. It is this mass reach Facebook wants to tap into and believes sets it aside from competitors. This includes voice-activated devices such as Alexa, which don’t allow brands to contact consumers first.
“One key property for Messenger is the ability for brands to reach customers who are registered on Facebook. Customers can actually engage with the brand and be sent relevant content,” Marcus highlighted.
Though Facebook is not opposed to exploring voice options in the future, as it already offers voice messaging through Messenger, it says this is not its main focus .
“Most people prefer typing [using the Messenger app] right now. Sending voice messages probably isn’t as comfortable,” Marcus said.
Instead, the company is investing in the ability for people to “go live”, and still has to convince more brands to use the platform.
Marcus believes the financial sector is particularly suited to make the most of Messenger, with firms such as American Express notifying its customers and providing more information on transactions using the app. Brands are already able to receive payments through Messenger in the US, which is something the tech giant wants to expand globally within the next 12 months.
The platform currently offers light-hearted features such as informal group chats and Snapchat-style filters. That said, Marcus believes users will not be put off being contacted by “serious” brands on the platform.
“It used to be a platform just to call your friends but now it has so many capabilities. I think the notion people want to be serious on some platforms and not on others is pretty antiquated. You can walk into a bank and have a serious conversation and then go and goof around with your friends. You can act different in different places and the same is true with your digital life,” he explained.
To make sure Messenger remains relevant, Facebook says it measures brand activity through a number of factors, including people turning off the notifications they receive from a specific brand, block rates and deletes from threads. This gives Facebook a “good indicator” on a brand’s engagement levels and appetite.
It also works to a 24 hour rule, whereby a brand can contact a consumer within 24 hours once they have been interacted with. After this time, the brand is given the opportunity to only send one more message if the issue has not been resolved.
“We also look at the data and signal. If we see one specific developer with a high mute or block rate we may even remove them from the platform. We take it very seriously,” Marcus concluded.