- Facebook is testing a tool to help small businesses send promotional messages to their customers on its Messenger chat app. Messenger Broadcast Composer, which will let companies circulate a message to all users who previously started a chat with them, is piloting among a handful of businesses in the U.S., Mexico and Thailand, according to TechCrunch.
- This comes just months after Facebook confirmed it was internally testing the self-serve mass messaging interface in November. Now expanding to a larger external pilot, the authoring tool has a template that lets businesses design a welcome message, create preset replies for common user inquiries and insert a call-to-action button that urges users to visit the company's website or prompt a chatbot conversation.
- The goal is to provide tools for small businesses with limited time and money to develop chatbots that can interact with customers or broadcast an ad. The service is free to use for a limited time, a Messenger spokesperson told TechCrunch, but will likely charge businesses down the road for sending messages to customers. Facebook also is capping the number of messages businesses can send in order to deter spam.
This isn't the first time a social platform has issued self-serve ad-buying tools. Both Facebook and Snapchat saw more business from marketers after implementing interfaces that marketers — especially those from smaller companies — can develop themselves with low budgets and no coding experience.
Social media companies like Facebook are increasingly reaching out to smaller businesses that make up a huge part of the global economy as they look to continue to drive growth. The U.S. alone has about 30 million small businesses that employ almost half of the work force, according to the latest data from the Small Business Administration. That means social media companies have a significant opportunity to support smaller businesses that may rely on direct mail or email marketing to keep in touch with existing customers at a lower cost.
Facebook, which parlayed its social network that connects friends and family into a multibillion-dollar business, recognizes the next frontier in connecting small businesses with their customers. People are increasingly messaging small businesses on Messenger to get store or product information, or for customer service. In 2017, 330 million people started conversations with small businesses, as a recent report found 67% of people said they prefer text-based messaging instead of making phone calls or sending emails when interacting with a business. This suggests that marketers need to consider creative ways to use messaging to engage customers without being disruptive or annoying, which the social network addresses with its cap on the number of messages a business can send customers.
As with any media company, Facebook will have to balance the needs of marketers with consumers who don't want another avenue for spam. It's not hard to imagine that consumers will become hesitant to initiate a chat with a business knowing that it will mean their contact information is being automatically captured for future ad campaign outreach.