Facebook Messenger gears up to dismantle Yellow Pages

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cd11c3302abd53ed0bda50c5a7f31af9 - Facebook Messenger gears up to dismantle Yellow Pages

Facebook is often called the ­internet’s white pages, but that’s not enough for the social media giant — it is taking aim at the Australian market in an ­attempt to replace the Yellow Pages with Messenger-based communication.

Australia is a key market in the rollout of Messenger for business, which enables customers and businesses to communicate through thread-based messaging as though speaking with a friend.

Speaking to The Australian, vice-president of product for Messenger Stan Chudnovsky said the company believed there was “pent-up demand” ­for Messenger-style communi­cations with businesses; and that the potential value for users and business was “enormous”.

“The amount of value this is going to unlock is going to be awesome for users, for businesses and for us,” he said. Mr Chudnovsky described the Australian digital mindset as “living in the future” when it comes to taking up new technology and cited extremely high penetration of Messenger as motivation for a visit to Australia to meet local businesses and developers to discuss the platform.

“We’re trying to figure out what we’re doing right, what we’re doing wrong and what we can do better,” he said. Australian businesses are world leaders when it comes to using Messenger, with the use of the application ranging from SMEs to giants like Qantas and Kmart, both of which have rolled out Messenger bots in an effort to better communicate with their customers.

A Kmart spokeswoman told The Australian that its “Buddy” gift-recommending bot had helped the company “better connect with our customers”.

“(Messenger) lets our customers know that we’re listening at any point of their journey with us: from their in-store experience, online at kmart.com.au, or product queries to customer support,” the spokeswoman said.

Facebook has had strong success in Australia, attracting 15 million monthly unique users, 14 million of which exist on ­mobile.

Instagram, the Facebook-owned image-sharing platform, attracts seven million users; for now, the company is withholding Messenger’s user numbers.

At the core of the new push into facilitating business-customer relationships is Facebook’s recently announced Messenger Platform 2.0, which introduces a discovery tab and new AI-based “Smart Replies” for pages.

Smart Replies expands on the concept of auto-replying Messenger bots to ease time commitments from businesses in answering FAQs like opening hours or contact details.

Transactions are another area that Facebook plans to introduce to Messenger, enabling users to provide their payment information to enable one-tap purchases, but Mr Chudnovsky makes it clear that Facebook has “zero interest” in joining the growing digital payments business. “We want to enable as many transactions as possible, but we don’t want to be in the payments business.”

Instead, at the heart of the release of these new features is the same revenue model Facebook has always had — advertising. In Australia, Facebook has experimented with new advertising cells within Messenger, which allow businesses to appear as suggestions when scrolling through the lists of your conversations.

Mr Chudnovsky said Messenger Platform 2.0’s Discover tab features advertising potential but the details were yet to be nutted out.

“We will allow [businesses] to put ads in Discover, but not sure if we’ll sell ranking,” he said.

“We want to first and foremost extend the existing ad system that we already have — we don’t want to educate the advertised space on that,” he added.

Mr Chudnovsky dismissed the prospect of conversation scraping for better ad-targeting. “We would never do that.”

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