Facebook Looking for More Consumers to Chat With Businesses on Messenger

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Facebook is taking some of its messaging cues from consumers in Asia, and that means you may soon find yourself buying a whole range over products via chat.

At the Collision conference in New Orleans on Tuesday, Facebook’s head of product for Messenger, Stan Chudnovsky, spoke with Recode’s Kurt Wagner about how the company is trying to unite the messaging app’s 1.2 billion users with the 60 million businesses in the Facebook ecosystem.

Chudnovsky said that the company has recently been studying the way that people use messaging products in Asia — where much more commerce and search is conducted via apps like WeChat. 

“There’s way more conversations between people and businesses that exist in the Facebook ecosystem that are happening, and facilitated on Messenger, in Asia than are happening here,” said Chudnovsky. “That kind of gives us a window in the future. It definitely helps us to solidify our strategy in terms of what we are doing here.”

Chudnovsky said that with 20 million businesses active on Messenger already, there is definitely the potential for more direct communication between them and the app’s users. The company is looking for ways to make it obvious that you can make a connection to a business via Messenger — but he thinks that in some ways people in the West are already trained to make that leap.

“If you think about it, for the past 150 years, there were two books delivered to your doorstep,” he said. “One was the white pages, which was people directory, and the other was the yellow pages, which was the business directory. Messenger is already the people directory — what we need to do is to add the business directory to it — and when we introduced the discovery tab, this was our first attempt to go there.”

He gave the example of a person he had met in Australia who had bought solar panels for their house over Messenger.

“They saw an ad, they started a conversation, they messaged the business, the business replied back, and boom, all of a sudden you have a massive transaction,” he said.

While he said that Facebook was looking to facilitate these types of transactions over Messenger via third parties, Chudnovsky did not foresee the social giant getting directly into payment processing through the app.

“We don’t want to be in the payments business,” he said. “We want to facilitate the transaction and want to be friends with everybody. The payments business is a deep and complex business, and we have a lot of partners that specialize in it.  We need to focus on what we do best, and from the moneymaking standpoint that’s ads.”

One type of ad that he said Facebook was testing was an ad that could open directly in Messenger so that a consumer could immediately start chatting with a business. But Chudnovsky was clear that Facebook was not looking to target ads based on the content of people’s private conversations in the app.

Asked whether Messenger was thinking about following the trend into voice search (like Amazon and Apple) as well, Chudnovsky said that it was possible in the future, but voice added some complexity and was not in the app’s immediate expansion plans.

“We want to do whatever we do very, very well and build up,” he said.

David Hirschman is a co-founder of Street Fight.