And so it begins: Messenger expanding sponsored chats

9 Nov 2016

Facebook Messenger. Image: Denys Prykhodov/Shutterstock

Conversational commerce is upon us all, as Facebook confirms plans to let more businesses pay to send sponsored content to users within the app.

If you see the Messenger logo lighting up on your smartphone, clicking on it as you expect to see a comment from a friend, don’t be too surprised if it’s shoes, a new coat or the latest grocery offerings appearing in front of you.

Facebook has announced an inevitable expansion to its latest business model: more companies will soon be contacting users over Messenger.

Speaking in Lisbon at the Web Summit, David Marcus, Facebook’s VP of messaging products, said the initial success that companies have seen in reaching customers via Messenger has spurred the expansion.


Cnet reports that the broadening of the service could come “as early as this week”, with changes to the model meaning companies which users have previously had conversations with can now advertise directly.

This is the world of conversational commerce, and it’s an area of business that the west is lagging behind in.

WeChat has roughly a dozen services hosted in its messaging platform, allowing users to talk to local stores and order products without leaving the app.

It’s spreading, too. In September, Google snapped up API.AI, a natural language and speech recognition company.

Essentially arming itself with a deeper pool of chatbot expertise, it’s an area that others are seeking to fill, too.

Amazon, for example, has just hired the founder and chief executive of conversational commerce start-up

Not one to be left behind, Oracle recently announced its own plans for a chatbot-building platform. At Oracle OpenWorld last month, Oracle CTO Larry Ellison showed how his company’s tools could help the likes of Facebook Messenger with its conversational commerce model in future.

Facebook is leading the charge outside of China, so much so, that its early testing in this area has meant Marcus no longer worries about annoying users with added adverts.

“I was very concerned, and now I’m not concerned,” he said, with genuine exchanges between customer and company a new departure for many.

“If a company writes you an email, it’s usually a no-reply ad,” Marcus said. “We have a path to providing a much better user experience for that.”

Facebook Messenger. Image: Denys Prykhodov/Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic