Facebook’s eagerly-awaited F8 developer conference confirmed the social network’s plan to allow brands to interact directly with consumers using ‘chatbots’ on its Messenger platform, opening the potential for a new commerce environment for advertisers.
Co-founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg yesterday (12 April) revealed Facebook’s 10-year plan, and its ambition to develop technologies in three areas: connectivity, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR).
In the short term, advertisers will be able to begin building AI chatbots, which will allow Messenger’s 900 million users to interact with brand about products and services without having to speak to anyone over the phone.
Facebook last year began trialling its own ‘M’ chatbot in an attempt to refine the concept – and avoid the fall-out experienced by Microsoft, when its Tay chatbot began making offensive comments on Twitter.
CNN has become one of the first media owners to launch its own Messenger bot. In partnership with Outbrain for Chat, users will be able to message CNN for the latest news and information around high-profile topics, and request summaries of complex stories.
Another key area of focus is Facebook Live, the network’s live video streaming platform, for which it has opened up its API to developers and brands.
Writing on Facebook, Zuckerberg argued bots will make it easier for consumers to communicate with brands: “Now you’ll be able to send messages to a business like you do with a friend – and get a quick reply without taking your full attention or requiring you to install a new app.
“Over the long run, we’re building planes and satellites to connect everyone to the internet; artificial intelligence to help us interact with services more easily; and virtual reality to help us experience the world in a totally new way.”
“Facebook can learn from the brand chat issues that LINE and WeChat have faced, in particular messaging spam”
Zoë Lawrence, APAC director – digital at TNS, said the launch showed that Facebook is finally catching up with Asian messaging apps like WeChat and LINE. However, she warned that Facebook must look to avoid the levels of “messaging spam” experienced in the APAC region.
“This move from Facebook provides an opportunity for brands to engage with customers in their own ecosystem – where they are already spending time – and is a much better bet than asking them to navigate to a brand’s own app, or even their website,” said Lawrence.
“As the functionality develops, Facebook can learn from the brand chat issues that LINE and WeChat have faced, in particular messaging spam. The key is to keep users in control of the experience, so the ‘block’ button on Messenger will be an interesting test of how much brands can connect with a user before they are removed.”