How to start off on the right foot with Facebook's Messenger Business platform

Streamlining interactions between customers and businesses sounds like a good idea, but what will it take to actually make it work?

Image: Facebook

On Wednesday March 25, thousands gathered at the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco, California to attend Facebook's F8 developer conference. Early buzz hinted that whatever big announcement CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg had planned was going to have something to do with Messenger.

The buzz wasn't unfounded. Zuckerberg announced the Messenger platform and the Messenger business platform.

The latter runs on the premise that dealing with businesses is a pain point for consumers. Ordering something online means fielding an assortment of disconnected emails like receipts, order confirmations, shipping confirmations, and tracking updates. Changing an order leads from the email back to the original website, and getting any other kind of customer service help requires a whole narrative for every phone call or chat--in other words, the story of one order is scattered in many places as many tasks.

Messenger Business will bring all that into the Messenger inbox. Amending an order would supposedly be as easy as messaging a friend about meeting a half hour later.

At the offset, it sounds like Facebook is "changing the way people interact with business," as Zuckerberg put it, by offering streamlined communication with better organization and more context in a format that's more native to current culture.

However, that's the conference-ready ideal. Facebook hasn't announced yet just how it plans to roll this out, or whether it will be something available to only a few partners. Unleashing it on the masses of businesses and brands could be tricky. And there's not release day just yet.

See: Facebook F8 2015: The 5 most important developments for brands and businesses

There are a few considerations brands and businesses should keep in mind in order to, well, not screw things up on Messenger Business.

For one, there's plenty of opportunity to get spammy. For as many funny, interesting, or engaging brand accounts as there are to follow, from DiGiorno Pizza on Twitter to General Electric on Instagram, there are also the legions of accounts out there who don't stray too far beyond purely posting promotional content.

Since Messenger will now integrate with all kinds of apps like JibJab, Dubsmash, and a number of others that allow users to make short videos, animations, or photo collages, businesses could jump on board with that same communication style that average users employ among themselves.

"Maybe it is a little interactive ad that's personalized. If it goes beyond that, then all of a sudden it's rich media, it's in your face, you don't want your message feed full of that stuff," said Gartner analyst Brian Blau.

Brands may need to shift they way they view what Facebook is and what its primary use is.

"Businesses have typically looked at businesses as an advertising channel," said Altimeter Group analyst Susan Etlinger.

And because of that past pattern, the temptation to use Messenger Business for promotion will be strong, said Adobe Social's Carmen Sutter.

Another challenge for businesses will be keeping in mind that if they're going to earn space along side relatives and friends, the interactions they have with consumers should feel personal.

All these aside, though, one of the biggest considerations businesses will have to make is how to integrate messenger for business into their workflow. That means making decisions like who will run it--is it the customer service team, or the social team? A few from both?

Sutter compared the customer service aspect to Twitter--there will have to be people active in real time on Messenger, because Twitter has trained people to expect those quick responses.

"Customer service seems to be one of the best use cases for social media. I think the expectation with something like a messaging platform is that it's more real-time, so if you don't get a response right away, you're probably like, 'what good does this do?'" she said.

Etlinger referenced problems that can already exist for businesses, especially large ones, like what happens when a customer tweets at a brand but also calls them. Perhaps the two departments don't talk and don't know the issue is basically a duplicate. Or, establishing standards like the average time a customer has to wait to get an answer.

"It does require some organizational alignment to ensure that the business that's occurring on Messenger for business, is actually aligned with the customer's journey through or preferred interaction with the business," Etlinger said.

Businesses that want to use Messenger Business can't simply tack it on to what they're already doing. It has to be integrated into social strategy or customer interaction strategy, she said.

There's also the matter of how Messenger Business might integrate with whatever pre-existing CRM system a business uses.

As for more outward-facing concerns, businesses will also have to figure out how to communicate to customers if and how they can access their data and for what purposes. And part of that burden will fall on Facebook as well.

"Does Facebook now get my entire purchase history?" Sutter said.

It wasn't so long along that Facebook got itself in trouble when the purchases people were making were showing up on their newsfeeds.

"There were these horror stories of when people watches movies on Netflix and it automatically shared to Facebook or somebody bought an engagement ring--do people really feel safe sharing that with Facebook?" Sutter said.

Getting over trust issues could take some work.

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