6 trends Facebook Messenger’s chief sees for messaging in 2018

JP Mangalindan
Chief Tech Correspondent
Facebook Messenger head David Marcus.

If messaging was a huge deal in 2017, Facebook Messenger head David Marcus thinks 2018 will prove even bigger for the billions of people who send one another emoji-happy messages around the world.

On Tuesday, Marcus published a post outlining the six major trends, or themes, he sees influencing Messenger — and its 1.3 billion monthly active users — throughout the year.

His predictions outline a mix of logical extensions and course-corrections for the messaging service he joined in 2014.

More real-time features

If 2017’s deluge of political and pop culture news reinforced anything, it was that on-the-fly communication proved instrumental, not just for keeping in touch, but for keeping tabs on what happened in the world. There were grim stories of sexual harassment in Hollywood posted across social media; there were survivors of natural disasters who communicated their safety on Facebook (FB). And, of course, there were President Donald Trump’s tweets.

Regardless of the kind of content, those examples illustrated the klout of messaging and social media once again. To wit, Marcus foresees Messenger rolling out more ways to make sure users stay connected, whether it’s in the U.S. or in emerging markets.

“This year, you’ll see us continue investing in real-time communications to make sure that no matter where you are, you can easily stay connected to your loved ones,” Marcus wrote in the post. “No one wants to miss a special moment, but real-time communication is what connects us in times of crisis too… and we unfortunately saw more than our share of that last year.”

Beefier group chats

Group chat was one of Messenger’s most popular features. In 2017 alone, the messaging service said 2.5 million new group chats were created on Messenger everyday, with the average group chat having 10 people. In addition to group chat features rolled out last year, like the @mentions ability to call out someone in a chat by their username, Marcus suggested that the Messenger group chat experience will grow further in 2018, by, for instance, finding ways to integrate group chat into live video group chat.  

A more streamlined experience

While Messenger grew to 1.3 billion monthly active users in September, it also got flack by some tech media for trying to do too much. As part of Facebook’s larger push to emulate Snapchat’s Stories, for example, Messenger launched a similar feature of its own at the beginning of last year — a feature that was consolidated with Facebook Stories in November.

Earlier this month, the Messenger team said M, the human-powered personal digital assistant being tested with some 2,000 users, would be retired. A Facebook spokesperson told Yahoo Finance in early January that Facebook would take its learnings from M and use them to power other artificial intelligence-related projects at the social network.

“Over the last two years, we built a lot of capabilities to find the features that continue to set us apart,” Marcus explained. “A lot of them have found their product market fit; some haven’t. While we raced to build these new features, the app became too cluttered. Expect to see us invest in massively simplifying and streamlining Messenger this year.”

More visual ways to communicate

Marcus thinks visual messaging — using images, videos, GIFs and stickers — to “fully explode.” That’s probably of little surprise to some, given Messenger users sent over 500 billion emojis and shared 18 billion animated GIFs last year in 2017. Expect Messenger to roll out even more ways for users to visually express themselves, as it works to draw more emoji-loving, GIF-happy teens and millennials to its service.

Messaging as a preferred method of customer service

Likewise, Marcus also remains bullish on messaging platforms shouldering more customer service requests, as more people learn they can message and interact with companies on platforms like Messenger rather than having to dial a company’s customer service number the old-fashioned way. To wit, according to a Facebook-commissioned study by Nielsen published in December, 56% of people prefer to message a business rather than call customer service, while 67% of those same people expect to message businesses even more over the next two years.

“While calling still plays a prominent role in customer service, this has opened the door for brands and businesses to communicate with their customers in a variety of new ways to not only respond to issues or one-off questions, but to offer an up-sell opportunity to benefit both people and the business,” Marcus wrote.

Messaging as a marketing channel

More and more, Marcus has learned that people expect to find businesses with some sort of messaging component: a live chat box on a company’s website, a customer service chat bot inside an app, or the ability to interact with a business on a full-blown service like Messenger. Likewise, more marketers over the past 12 months have expressed interest in using messaging as a way to connect with their customers.

“We’ve been encouraged to see that bigger brand names are bringing a presence to Messenger (LEGO, Katy Perry, Apple Music) which signals the acceptance from CMOs [chief marketing officers] that it’s time to create a unique and effective experience that can reach more people at scale,” Marcus wrote. “Look for investment in rich messaging experiences, not only from global brands, but small businesses who need to be creative and nimble to stay competitive.”

While Facebook has taken heat at times over tweaks and changes — last week’s controversial News Feed changes come to mind — Marcus’s pledge to simplify Messenger in some ways, while doubling down on popular features such as group chat should be well-received as the service works to snag its next 1 billion users.

JP Mangalindan is the Chief Tech Correspondent for Yahoo Finance covering the intersection of tech and business. Email story tips and musings to jpm@oath.com. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

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