Mark Zuckerberg opened this year’s Facebook Developer Conference by plainly declaring, “the future is private.” And while this position has provoked some rightful skepticism, the rest of the F8 event certainly made good on Zuckerberg’s assertion: conference sessions tackled topics ranging from data security, to using machine learning for threat detection, to ethics in design. And at least half of those sessions focused on Messenger.

“If we were to build a private social network today,” explained Messenger’s Head of Consumer Product, Asha Sharma, “it’d be built around Messenger.” Sharma presented directly after Zuckerberg’s keynote, which would become a pattern throughout the conference – Messenger leading the logo roster of Facebook-owned apps, followed next by WhatsApp, with Instagram and Facebook relegated to the middle-rear of the lineup.

The vision for Messenger is to become the world’s fastest, lightest, most reliable and secure messaging platform. They’re tackling that in several ways:

  • Speed
    As part of an initiative internally named “Project LightSpeed,” the Messenger mobile app has been made 2x faster and 7x lighter than other messaging platforms. It’s clear that making this Messenger-centric vision a reality will rely on significant performance improvements from the lagging, bloated app we may remember from its initial launch.
  • Privacy
    Messenger has introduced several new privacy features, including encryption (which its sister WhatsApp has offered for a long time), secret conversations, and anti-permanent messages – the new word for what used to be “ephemeral.”
  • Experience
    In a Messenger-based social network, people shouldn’t have to leave the Messenger app for any reason. That’s why the latest version of Messenger is feature-rich (including native payments, video chat, and a Watch Together function that lets you watch video content on video chat with your friends), interoperable with WhatsApp and Instagram direct messages, and soon to be available in a self-contained desktop app.

With all of this overt focus on privacy and one-to-one messaging, it might seem like Facebook has taken a step away from its friendliness toward (or even acknowledgment of) advertisers. But their doubling down on Messenger does have some clear and important implications for businesses:

  • Brands need to absolutely nail message-based customer service.
    There are 20 billion messages sent between people and businesses on Messenger every month, and 75% of consumers say they would prefer to message a business rather than contact them through any other method. It’s becoming de rigeur for companies to not only be reachable via Messenger, but to effectively use the capabilities of the platform – like AI and personalization through in-app authentication – to provide superior customer service to people who message them directly.
  • But we need to look beyond inbound customer service alone.
    It’s not hard to imagine that with the pace of development on Messenger, businesses will soon be able to conduct their entire customer experience through the platform without customers needing to visit an external website or physical location at all. Messenger already offers native e-commerce and bill payment, and soon will be rolling out the ability to book appointments (with real-time availability and reminders) directly through the app. Also on the horizon is a visual search function, which will allow people to capture, find and buy products using their phone’s camera directly within Messenger.

  • Word of mouth matters again.
    It wasn’t that long ago that social marketers’ primary concern was not targeted reach or CPM, but the so-called “virality” or “shareability” of their content. And while social ad products will continue to grow more sophisticated and effective, it’s important to remember that the vast majority of social media activity is private – and with the investment platforms are making in messaging, we can expect that proportion to keep growing. The smartest brands of the next few years will use this as an opportunity to ensure that the things their brand stands for – the value they provide, or the emotions they evoke – will incite people to talk about and recommend them. Even in private.

We’ve come a long way in a short time from wondering whether Messenger ads are worth it. The question for marketers now should be: How can we evolve our business to exist naturally in a social environment that has messaging at the core?

Read more insights from Digitas here.

Author: Liz Cole, VP/Group Director, Social Strategy, Digitas