Looking to Facebook to get a peek into the future of the head-spinning evolution of the digital world is hardly sheer genius.
But it is at least wise — not so much because Facebook is the most-cutting edge enterprise when it comes to digital innovation, but more because Facebook is brilliant in understanding where consumer desires and expectations are headed.
Like any hugely successful market leader, Facebook is not always first on a trend, but it is sometimes first on understanding how to combine already identified trends. Its MO of late has been to buy the technology it needs to build its vision of the future.
That’s why I was so intrigued with the stories coming out of Facebook’s F8 conference in San Jose, Calif., this week. Take the story that appeared in the Mercury News of San Jose concerning changes to the company’s Messenger app.
There were a lot of little pieces mentioned in the story — adding mobile payment capabilities to games, making Messenger more like Snapchat (if you can’t buy ‘em, join ‘em), accommodating those who want new ways to access commerce bots or find businesses or order food.
What the story didn’t expressly say, but what the story illustrated, is that Facebook is charting the course of the future of commerce. And at the center of it all is personalization. Facebook is tackling that with the vast trove of information it has on its members.
Facebook has the advantage of being able to connect every online action with a known individual. Users sign on to Facebook. It has no need to segment or target. It can develop one-to-one personalization because it knows exactly who the “one” is.
The Mercury explained that Stan Chudnovsky, Facebook’s head of product, believes that Messenger will remain a go-to by using artificial intelligence to improve the personalized experience it gives users.
Personalization applies to content, products and even friends
That kind of personalization, of course, can apply to content or products or even finding compatible friends who users don’t even know. But take that kind of personalization and connect some of the other dots in the Merc’s piece and the story becomes all that more interesting.
For instance, Chudnovsky, speaking at F8, also said that FB was unveiling a feature that would make it easier to have group chats with bots, the story said. The app will allow groups to summon bots to share music from Spotify and to make restaurant reservations.
IDC analyst John Jackson told the Merc: “You want to meet the customers where the customer is, and that’s where we are in messaging apps. For businesses, it’s a very logical way to engage in that way, and they’re taking very significant strides in making bots available.”
Meet the customers where the customer is. It’s the very mantra of the omnichannel retail crowd. But for Facebook it might be a more about keeping the customer where the customer is — namely on Facebook.
So far, so good for the Menlo Park company. According to the Mercury News about 20 million businesses are already connecting with users on Messenger. And the company says Facebook expects that number to grow, which makes sense, especially if the latest moves are in line with what consumers are looking for.
The improved app make Messenger more like China’s WeChat, a messaging app that has become a huge commerce platform because it allows such flexibility and because China has long been a mobile-first digital culture.
Facebook, meantime, has been pushing into e-commerce for some time. And so it’s no small thing that the Silicon Valley social network company is trumpeting personalization as one key to its future. There is little doubt that personalization is also a key to the latest era of digital commerce and communication.
Those who offer content and products on the web will no doubt be staking their futures on finding the right recipe for personalization.
The reported announcements at F8 touch on another intriguing puzzle for both digital commerce and digital content providers: the seemingly contradictory chore of figuring out how to personalize for groups.
The features enlisting bots for creating playlists for groups or allowing group ordering, for instance, might well need to offer personalized recommendations for those groups, as oxymoronic as that sounds.
Chris Martin, chief technical officer of Pandora raised the idea of coming up with group personalization at the Structure Data Conference last year. What do you do, he asked, if you have an algorithmically aided music recommendation engine that is playing to the crowd, so to speak? Martin suggested the machine might add context clues to the mix to come up with the answer.
For instance, I could see a machine that gathers signals that would help it consider whether a number of people had gathered for a birthday party, a sports tailgate party or a funeral.
It’s all a reminder that personalization is likely to be one of those things that marketers never quite master. Just as the technology to achieve true one-to-one personalization becomes available, it could be that it’s time to work on one-to-many personalization.
None of which is reason to be discouraged. In fact, it’s reason to be energized, as we race to get ahead of the future. All the while, looking to Facebook to show us the way.
Facebook logo courtesy of Facebook.
Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.