Facebook Messenger launches AI-enabled suggestions

Messaging Apps Vs Social Networks
BI Intelligence

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On Thursday, Facebook rolled out suggestions from M, its AI-powered virtual assistant, to all Messenger users in the US.

The feature pops up within conversations on the chat app and suggests relevant actions, such as sending a sticker or sharing a location, that aim to “enrich the way people communicate and get things done.”

For example, if a user asks a friend on Messenger “where are you?” M will privately suggest that the friend share their location information. The company first tested suggestions from M to a limited number of users in December 2016. A wider rollout of the feature is expected soon. 

Suggestions from M will thrust Facebook’s AI assistant in front of more users. The company has been trialing its M assistant to select users in the US since 2015 to assess how users interact with the virtual concierge. Suggestions from M is a slight tweak to Facebook’s existing AI-assistant efforts, pushing information rather than waiting for users to request, or “pull,” it. 

This will help surface buried Messenger features, as the company aims to make the app more useful. The chat app has been increasingly adding features such as calendar updates, group chat polls, ride-sharing options, and P2P payments (in the US). However, many of these additions are hidden within the app, and users have to click through several menus to reach them, potentially hindering accessibility.

If suggestions from M gain traction, it could begin letting third-party developers integrate their apps into the platform. For now, the service is targeting internal Messenger features. However, the inclusion of ride-hailing services like Lyft and Uber suggests Facebook could open its platform to brands and business. That would vastly improve the reach, discoverability, and usage rates for app developers, as well as provide brands with a new commerce avenue:

  • Facebook Messenger has a wide global reach. Facebook’s chat app boasts more than 1 billion monthly active users globally across both iOS and Android, effectively making it one of the largest mobile platforms in terms of reach.
  • Building apps within chat apps reduces the friction of launching and running apps. Because M Suggestions pushes commands to users, it could increase the chance that they see and interact it. This could include pushing brands’ chatbots, which would go a long way in solving Facebook’s bot discovery issues.
  • Chat apps over-index when it comes to app engagement. The average number of daily sessions for chat apps is more than four times higher than that of traditional apps, according to Flurry. Messenger could provide developers with the opportunity to build an app experience where users are spending their time, increasing usage. 

The top four messaging apps — Facebook's Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat, and Viber — now claim nearly 3 billion monthly active users combined, narrowly outnumbering the combined active users on the world's four largest social networks, including Facebook.

These numbers have caught the attention of a wide range of businesses, publishers among them. News industry leaders including the Wall Street Journal, The Economist, and the BBC are establishing a presence on a number of chat apps in an effort to be out front and build an audience on the latest platforms where people are consuming content. These early adopters are experimenting to learn which chat apps work for their audience and how they can leverage chat for the distribution of digital content, including articles, images, surveys, and video. 

BI Intelligence, Business Insider's premium research service, has compiled a detailed report on messaging apps for publishers that looks at the appeal of these apps and how they're becoming a dominant platform for media consumption. It compares the leading chat platforms, including WhatsApp, WeChat, Facebook's Messenger, and Viber, and what features publishers should know about when thinking about how they might leverage these properties. It also looks at strategies for content distribution across chat apps and finally spotlights some of the challenges that publishers may encounter as they begin to dip their toes into content distribution via messaging apps.

Here are some of the key takeaways:

  • There are dozens of messaging platforms, each with distinct user demographics and features, and these differences will determine which apps a publisher should try and what type of content is most fitting. 
  • Publishers like The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, and the BBC are experimenting to learn which chat apps work for their audience and how they can leverage chat for the distribution of digital content, including articles, images, surveys, and video.
  • Chat apps are especially appealing to publishers because they allow these brands to tap into users' "dark social" activity. Dark social traffic stems from people sharing content privately through IM programs, messaging apps, and email, among other means.
  • Because chat apps were once primarily used for peer-to-peer communications, publishers have an opportunity to reach audiences on these platforms through a more conversational exchange. 

In full, the report:

  • Breaks down the pros and cons of each major messaging app.
  • Explains the different ways publishers can distribute content on messaging apps.
  • Highlights the differences between native and linked content.
  • Looks at the potential barriers that could limit chat apps' utility for publishers.

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