Messenger Going Dark: Changes In Messenger Policy & How To Adapt

There is a well known saying from ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus: “The only constant in life is change”.

Nowhere does this ring more true than in the digital marketing space and if you have anything to do with marketing your (or your client’s) business online, you’ll no doubt be nodding in agreement right now.

If you’ve ever done any marketing on Facebook, you’d know that changes across their suite of products come thick and fast (and often with little warning). One such change is coming soon and it’s a doozy!

Facebook spun off its instant messaging functionality into a seperate app (we now know as Messenger) back in 2014 and since then it has become the second most popular instant messaging service in the world (second only to Whatsapp who are now also owned by Facebook).

Businesses large and small have embraced Messenger en masse as a key channel for direct communication with their existing and prospective customers (with Facebook’s active encouragement).

Once Facebook released the Messenger platform and API, businesses were able to easily create their own Messenger Bots using tools like ManyChat. This has resulted in Messenger absolutely ‘blowing up’ as an easy and cost effective marketing channel.

Many businesses went all in with Messenger and have started considering it as an effective add-on or even outright replacement for other communication channels with existing and prospective customers (such as email marketing).

The Party’s Over

In case you haven’t heard, there is a BIG change coming to Messenger on March 4, 2020. 

This change is so big that Facebook have had to push it back from the original date in January to give businesses and bot-building platforms time to adapt.

So What’s Changing Exactly?

You can read the full details of the upcoming change here but this is the gist of it:

  1. Anyone who subscribed to your Messenger bot will not be able to receive any broadcasts or automated follow up sequences from you after the first 24 hours from their initial subscription have lapsed (unless you get their permission again). There are a few exceptions but they are only accessible to relatively few business types and models.
  2. Any customer-specific personalised messages (a.k.a “subscription messaging”) will effectively only be available if your business is a news organisation. Even then, it can’t be promotional in nature.

  3. As mentioned in point #1 above, there are a few circumstances where you’ll be able to contact a person through Messenger beyond the initial 24 hours. The allowed use cases are quite restrictive and as is already the case, any promotional content in these messages is an absolute no-no.

The table below presents the full breakdown of what changes are coming in on March 4 and compares them to the current status quo:

Should You Just Forget About Messenger As A Marketing Channel?

Not quite. Actually, scratch that! The answer to the above question should be more like: “Hell no! You’d be crazy if you did!”

Messenger is extremely effective in not just getting your message across but also getting people to engage with it and take either the desired action or any action in general.

In an experiment conducted by Hubspot where they compared open rates and click through rates across Messenger and email, the open rate on messenger was 242% higher than email and the CTR was a whopping 609% higher!

Still think you can afford to give Messenger marketing the flick?

But I Can’t Broadcast On Messenger Anymore So What’s The Point?

That’s right, sending broadcasts for free to everyone who ever engaged with you on Messenger (either directly or through a bot) is not going to be an available option anymore.

This means that you should:

  1. Use Messenger bots to automate at scale the first interaction point on Messenger; and
  2. Focus on achieving a specific one-off business outcome with your Messenger bot that is relevant and valuable for your business.

Some examples for a “relevant and valuable” one-off business outcome that can be achieved through a Messenger bot (using bot building platforms like ManyChat) are:

The key with all of the above is that they must focus on a one-off outcome!

Unlike your email list or SMS list, your Messenger contacts are not an owned asset but rather an asset you build on someone else’s platform and that platform operator is the ultimate owner of that asset, not you.

Messenger (and especially Messenger bots) can continue to be a very powerful tool in your marketing stack provided you are willing to adopt the right mindset about it.

This is very similar to the change in mindset that was required when Facebook started restricting organic traffic. Businesses that shifted their mindset from using Facebook as a source for organic referral to using it as a great platform for paid advertising have won, and won big. Businesses that threw a tantrum and decided that if they can’t get free traffic from Facebook then they are not going to bother with it at all, lost

Which side would you rather be on?


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