As it’s been doing since it stealthily removed the creepy guy from the corner of its homepage, Facebook has rolled out a lot of recent updates without any announcements or fanfare. All of the changes are aimed toward smoothing the user experience and increasing time spent on pages, but a few changes look like true harbingers of change in the ways people consume and share content. Between its Messenger platform and control of Instagram, Facebook has a serious monopoly on the modern Internet, from consuming content to enabling food orders and PayPal payments via Messenger. Here’s a look at a few recent changes and what they could mean for content marketers.
The updates to Messenger that made it smoother and more widely accepted as a channel for everything from ordering takeout to requesting or sending money to friends were barely noted when announced. The change to user experience is subtle but dramatic—the app doesn’t look much different, but its capabilities are hugely expanded—and it seems poised to position Facebook for further future integration into larger marketplaces. That alone is an interesting pivot, but content marketers have another angle to consider in light of this change.
Every time an app integrates new and expanded functionality, it robs content creators of control over how their content is consumed. A restaurant or online retailer with a brilliantly designed online ordering platform that offers a quality user experience and bolsters repeat customers could rapidly be usurped by people messaging the same vendor asking for a product or menu item in conversation form. While either interaction results in a sale, one comes in through a carefully designed funnel that provides the brand with valuable information about its customers and an opportunity to make a unique impression, while the other arrives via the same blue and white dialog box that thousands of other conversations take place in.
Facebook content now encompasses a massive chunk of the Internet—and because it also controls Instagram, two of the three most popular content channels are under the same umbrella. Facebook is ardent about keeping users inside its ecosystem, which is why every link you click in your News Feed, Messenger, or Instagram bios is run inside of the respective app’s own browser. This is another curveball for content marketers who work not only to create meaningful native content but also struggle to get a handle on the rapidly evolving browsing habits of each app’s users. Every update, from allowing business accounts to put links or swipe-to-view features in their Instagram stories to third-party plugin sites like linkin.bio are designed to help brands create content as an extension of Instagram. While this may make it easier to reach a target audience where it already is, it also robs marketers of already rapidly diminishing control over how users interact with their content. As soon as a webpage, image, or video loses the viewer’s attention, a simple back button or gesture removes them from your domain entirely, and they return to the infinite possibilities of Instagram instead of the curated and finite engagement opportunities on your owned content channels.
Image attribution: Toni Hukkanen
We could talk all day about what chatbot food orders and PayPal messaging means for the average smartphone user, but the changing content channel landscape is about so much more than novel ways to do routine tasks. Content marketers must react to the changes in major social network platforms and study how to interact with their audiences given the tools at hand. The move towards in-app browsing and third-party integration means making impressions where people spend their time online is more important than ever, and SEO will continue to evolve as fewer people look to traditional search engines to find answers to their problems. The position of a brand in the social media sphere is evolving rapidly, as an Instagram page is no longer a place to repost the best visual content from ad campaigns—it is the primary content channel for a variety of native and paid content.
While many brands may not be affected directly by the new integration opportunities on Facebook Messenger, it is a clear weathervane that points towards a future of app-based web browsing, where services like Siri, Google, and even Facebook Messenger deliver their own curated answers and engagement points with the world wide web. Instead of keyword-based searches, many people will likely turn to conversation-based information gathering, product ordering, and payment options. Just like Amazon now lets you order more paper towels with a voice command and a small piece of hardware, software like Facebook Messenger is making our digital interactions more casual than ever before. Don’t let those sneaky little updates go unnoticed—they can teach us a lot about how tech giants plan for us to interact with the Internet for years to come.
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Featured image attribution: John Montesi