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Is Facebook positioning Messenger to be its commerce and payments play?

Facebook is building a multi-pronged approach to messaging with WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger, which could be positioned as a content, commerce and payments play similar to WeChat.

Facebook said this week that messaging capabilities would no longer be available in its core applcation in European markets, meaning users will have to download the Messenger app if they want these services. If WhatsApp is Facebook?s pure-play messaging app and Instagram the photo-messaging app, this leaves the door for Messenger to continue to build out the content and commerce services it has already begun to offer.

"I see all of these messaging apps as being complementary for Facebook,? said Pamela Cark-Dickson, senior analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media, London. ?WhatsApp is the pure-play messaging app, which will also soon add Voice over Internet Protocol, although users can also send pictures etc.

?Instagram is a more richly-featured picture messaging app than WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger,? she said. ?Meanwhile Facebook Messenger increasingly seems positioned as a service which Facebook is trying to develop as more of a content platform, and perhaps even as a commerce platform, like the Asian companies Line, Kakao and Tencent.

?For example, Facebook already offers stickers on Messenger, though I believe that these are mostly free for now. The company has also already enabled VoIP on the iOS and Android versions of Facebook Messenger, opening up the possibility that it can in the future sell call-out minutes or messages.?

User experience
Apps such as WeChat, Kakao Talk and Line have growing rapidly in Asia and have a much stronger commerce orientation that messaging apps in the United States.

For example, brands in China can use WeChat to offer both in-store and online purchases to users who follow their business accounts in the app.

Kakao Talk enables users to connect with brands and take advantage of special deals being offered by retailers and online merchants.

Line enables users to see offers from nearby merchants.

Even though Facebook is already a significant player in social-driven commerce, it reportedly is looking for ways to play a bigger role in commerce and possibly even payments. The challenge for Facebook is how to do this without turning off its core user base who may not be happy about seeing even more commercial elements in the user experience.

Making Facebook Messenger the company?s commerce and payments play could alleviate this problem.

Increased penetration
With WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger under its belt, Facebook already plays a significant role in messaging on mobile. WhatsApp is the world?s biggest pure-play mobile messaging app while Instagram is the biggest picture messaging app.

By requiring mobile users to download and use Facebook Messenger, the company is likely to increase penetration for this app as well. According to Facebook, it is taking this move to enhance the messaging experience for users.

?Facebook has been moving to separate messenger and the core app for a while since it started seeing customers, especially young customers, flee to other, more specialized apps,? said Tristan Barnum, vice president of marketing at Voxox, San Diego. ?Most of that specialization has been in the messaging space; i.e., SnapChat.?

Implications for marketers
The move to remove messaging from the core Facebook app could have implications for advertisers.

It might result in fewer visits to the core app, but at the same time, it could enhance targeting capabilities.

?The implications are now there are two places to target ads: Facebook and Messenger,? Ms. Barnum said. ?This will help many businesses further hone in on the markets they're looking to reach.

?There may be slightly smaller quantities of views on these ads if people are indeed visiting the core app less frequently, but they could be more targeted and thus, actually more valuable,? she said. ?If someone's coming to messenger, they may be open to different types of ads as well.?

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York