Will Facebook’s Ad Plans Shoot the Messenger?

 

Originally published in Wallblog on March 10, 2016

TechCrunch recently published a potentially damaging leak around Facebook’s rumoured plan to introduce ads to Messenger, the platform’s instant messaging text and voice service that lets users chat with friends on both mobile and the main site.

The leak detailed how, as early as Q2 this year, brands would be able to message customers who had previously contacted the brand through the app with ads.

No doubt this is was Facebook’s cautious first step towards monetising the platform.

And no doubt this service would be initially available to only a select handful of large brand players in order to test ROI.

But as cautious as the intentions may have been, it’s a move that’s likely to damage trust and leave a bad taste in consumers’ mouths. At a time when ad blockers are on the rise, it’s easy to see how the revelation could throw a spanner in Zuckerburgs’ plans for Messenger.

According to Global Web Index, after Facebook itself, Facebook Messenger is the platform with the highest percentage active users across the board in most demographics. This makes it a potential marketer’s dream.

But the ambition for Messenger doesn’t stop there. Far from it. In fact it’s fair to say that Zuckerburg, having hired PayPal star David Marcus, has some seriously grand plans for Messenger.

The vision is to make Messenger the ubiquitous channel through which customers communicate with brands throughout the web. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the ambition for messenger is to replace the 1-800 number.

Until now, users have enjoyed ad free access to Messenger, using it largely for it’s closed group functionality, to communicate privately with friends and family, either individually or as groups.

It’s not the first time Facebook will have had to deal with concerns about monetizing their portfolio of social spaces with advertising. When Facebook bought WhatsApp in 2014, Zuckerberg promised users: “I don’t personally think ads are the right way to monetize messaging.”

And despite claims that no unsolicited ads will be distributed through messenger and only customers who have already messaged brands will be eligible for targeted ads, it seems too much too soon if Zuck wants to retain trust and respect.

So I can’t help but think that it’s not only the leak that’s premature, but the overall plan for advertising as well. The app is only just getting started on its grand quest, so introducing ads to the platform as early as this year is far too soon.

For most people, communicating with brands through Messenger is far from the norm. The last thing Facebook wants to do is bombard people with ads through Messenger before the behaviour of brand contact through social becomes normalised.

For Facebook’s grand plans for Messenger to become reality, customers need to see Messenger as something that makes their lives easier. Or better than that, the social behemoth needs to develop the app until people see Messenger as an essential way to interact with brands. Only then can Facebook begin to phase in advertising very, very cautiously and very, very cleverly.

 

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