Facebook & Uber usher in the Age of Messaging
What does Facebook's partnership with Uber mean for the future of messaging? Jerry Daykin, Global Digital Partner at Carat, takes a look at the wider implications...
In case you missed it, at the very end of last year Facebook quietly announced that you can now order an Uber (in select cities) from within Messenger.
That may sound like a quirky gimmick, but it's really anything but - in fact it's arguably the clearest manifestation yet of the vision Facebook has for the platform, and a world where casual conversations with businesses are common place for its now 800 million users.
When Facebook first started to build out Messenger as a separate application it seemed pointless, confusing or down right annoying to many users, yet over the course of a year it has gone from 300 million to 800 million active users and over a billion downloads.
At the same time the appointment of former PayPal CEO, David Marcus, to lead the team also took many by surprise, but with hindsight it makes perfect sense. Whilst PayPal has made online transactions a little easier, Messenger's vision is now to completely transform them. Having conversations with friends & family is just the hook to get you interested in the first place.
Speaking at the F8 conference earlier this year Mark Zuckerberg laid out the vision that "Helping people communicate more naturally with businesses will improve, I think, almost every person's life because it's something everyone does." The Uber partnership is a natural embodiment of that; after all, what's easier than messaging someone to come and pick you up? Kids have been doing that to their parents for years.
If this all sounds bold and revolutionary then one thing to bear in mind is that they are already playing catch up.
The Chinese-based 'WeChat' app has had sophisticated commerce functionality for years and introduced its own taxi finder service at the start of 2015. Their partnership with local taxi app Didi Dache saw an astonishing 21 million rides in the very first month alone. That's just the beginning; at last year’s CES show in Las Vegas they had a room where you could make reservations, check in, change the music and even shut the curtains all from within the WeChat app.
Brands planning for the future have begun looking to Asia too. This summer Coca-Cola's UK mobile website heavily featured mentions of Japanese messenger app Line, despite the platform having a tiny footprint on these shores. Either something got horribly mixed up in the website's back end or a deal was done to trade global exposure and promotion for media and innovation value.
Mondelēz International, who I work closely with, has big global partnerships with Facebook, Google & Twitter but also a regional one with Tencent who owns WeChat. Together they've delivered some fantastic local campaigns (including a sticker-packed Oreo execution) but are also building up learnings they can reapply around the globe.
Facebook has other trial partnerships of its own, including one with KLM with an aim to allow the full travel process (booking, check in, ticketing, airport experience, etc) to take place as a discussion. With clothing retailers an ongoing conversation thread would allow you to order the same dress from six months ago in a different colour just by asking for it, or to discuss new options with a personal stylist. In fact any brand could move its customer service and eCommerce to the platform and maintain an ongoing dialogue with consumers. Having an open Messenger Thread would become the new customer acquisition, and balancing proactive support with unwanted spam the new CRM.
If it all sounds a bit like a cyborg personal assistant from the future then wait until you discover 'M' - a quietly launched test product that is Messenger's super-sized take on Siri.
M appears as a contact which you can ask to help you with just about anything - from booking a table, to doing some shopping or even (in Buzzfeed's case) to getting a live parrot delivered to someone's office. It's powered by a combination of real human responders and powerful 'deep learning' AI which looks at how they respond to queries and finds ways to repeat the same steps itself.
To date there haven't been many real opportunities for brands to make use of Messenger but it's very clear these are coming - from the light hearted inclusion of branded sticker sets (which have already become a huge phenomenon in Asia) to full on partnerships with platforms like Uber. Whilst marketers would be wise to hold back until there are real products to allow them to activate at scale, it's also dangerous not to be building up learnings on how consumer behaviour may be changing.
We Are Social's data suggests that four out of the biggest six social platforms in the world are already messaging apps (Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat & QQ).
For their part other platforms like Twitter, Instagram and of course Snapchat have themselves been working hard to flesh out their messaging functionality and stake a claim in this space. In fact probably the biggest shift we'll see in social media marketing over the next couple of years is the skyrocketing importance of messaging apps, and the opening up of new ways to reach millions of consumers through them. Welcome to the age of messaging - are we up to Web 4.0 yet?