At this year’s event, Facebook accepted that it needs to do more about privacy and data protection and, through a host of updates to Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram, underlined the growing importance of social messaging apps in delivering customer experience (CX).

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg kicked off this year’s F8 developer conference in exactly the same way as he did in 2018 – by accepting that his company needs to do more about privacy.

“The future is private,” he announced as he took the stage this week. “I get that a lot of people aren’t sure that we’re serious about this. I know that we don’t exactly have the strongest reputation on privacy right now, to put it lightly.”

A privacy promise

To make amends Zuckerberg outlined a number of initiatives that Facebook will be undertaking to change things. These include not placing data centers in countries with questionable human rights records, making its messenger app end-to-end encrypted, doubling down on user safety, giving people the tools to erase their histories or at least make some types of communication and sharing less permanent and taking steps to ensure user data is stored securely.

However, what Zuckerberg didn’t outline is exactly when any of these initiatives will come to fruition.

A year on from the introduction of GDPR in Europe and GDPR-inspired legislation in a number of other countries including New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Mexico and Brazil, data protection and data privacy are becoming make or break conditions for an increasing number of consumers when it comes to deciding who to do business with.

Therefore, even though Facebook was light on detail, the fact that it’s starting to be a part of that conversation will give a growing number of businesses who are using the platform piece of mind.

Because as well as underlining the work it needs to do to retain consumers’ trust, via the updates made to Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp, this year’s F8 also highlighted the growing role that social channels are playing in CX and in connecting people with businesses on their terms.

Messenger means business

Facebook’s multimedia messaging app now has 1.3 billion users but, more importantly, it’s also attracted over 40 million businesses who are using the platform as a social CX channel. Over the past 12 months, there’s been a 10-fold increase in the monthly number of messages sent between people and businesses – it now stands at 20 billion. And, many of those messages are automated as the app supports 300,000 active chatbots.

To make using Messenger an even more effective business channel, Facebook is adding lead generation templates for building chatbots that can ask users a set of standard questions in order to move them further along the sales funnel, whether that’s directing them to a web landing page or handing them over to a live agent.

Appointment chatbots

For businesses that interact with customers via appointments – think hair salons and dentists – Messenger has a bot that can now handle that too, authenticating the user and the time of the visit, whether the interaction starts on a business website and hands off to the app or whether completely in-app.

The final update is to the app itself. It is coming in desktop format which will make it much easier for businesses to manage conversations and of course, will also mean that for customers the user experience is device agnostic.

“Over the past three years Facebook has continuously enhanced the Messenger platform’s business capabilities,” says James Lee, Head of Digital Strategy for TSC, Sitel Group’s digital experts. “These latest updates are proof that social messaging apps are becoming critical channels for businesses that want to connect with customers on their terms.”

Simplifying shopping with Instagram

Instagram users will soon be able to ‘shop the look’ thanks to product tags. The app already allows a small number of businesses (the feature is still in beta testing) to sell directly to customers using Instagram Checkout. But now if a product is available on Instagram for sale, it can be “tagged” if it appears in an image or video post. Followers can click on the tags and instantly buy the item in question. As well as streamlining the shopping experience, the feature will provide data and insights for participating brands.

“Though product tags will launch in a closed beta, the feature is a strong reminder to all businesses that are leveraging Instagram,” says Lee. “This is a platform for discovery and inspiration above all and is proving itself as an excellent way of getting consumers into your sales funnel.”

A catalog of uses

WhatsApp is also slowly developing into a platform for commerce. At F8, Zuckerberg announced that peer-to-peer payments (currently only available in India) is rolling out to other countries over the coming months and that soon businesses using the platform to interact directly with customers will be able to host a product catalog so people will be able to see at a glance what’s in stock or unavailable. Aimed primarily at smaller businesses, the idea is that by using this feature there’s no need to build out a web presence.

“Facebook is intelligently taking a cautious approach to building out WhatsApp’s commercial capabilities. It is the most popular messaging app in Europe, North America, and India and it doesn’t want to break its 1.9 billion-strong user base’s trust,” explains Lee. “As WhatsApp for Business rolls out globally, expect to see more gradual changes and more new features focused on doing business. But don’t expect the platform to develop at the same rate as Messenger.”


Guillaume Slama