How Publishers Should Think About Messenger

Messenger updates, monetization, sponsored content


Facebook has recently made subtle, yet highly impactful moves in the ad space this month. 3 major highlights in August itself:

  • AUG 4: Declaration to de-prioritize and crack down on “clickbait” headlines by adjusting their news-feed algorithm
  • AUG 9: Intro to new ad-block system that restores choice to consumers on what we want and do not want to see
  • Aug 16: Facebook rolls out messengers first attempt at direct advertising; ‘Ad Bots’:

While these adjustments put many consumers at ease, some of these features were a major let-down for brands across all sizes. To put in some perspective, 43% (189.3 million) clicks to Buzzfeeds platform came from Facebook’s social click-baits. Their revenue took a major toll after the change.

Next move: Based on their adjustments in the month of August, It’s evident that Facebook is gearing up to discreetly take over the next phase of quality mobile ads; personalized, delivered content.

Although bots are an overused term that deliver no real value today, consumer brands & publishers should be paying full attention. If B2C engagement continues to grow via messenger and all other instant messaging services, and bots go from static to interactive (i.e., evolving to NLP that is more context driven), it could pose as serious threat to Ad-block over the next 3–4 years given the nature of its 1:1 conversation.

Facebook long term goal with Messenger:

Ever since it’s launch in 2011, Facebook is en route to be the world’s ‘one stop’ platform.

For businesses, this means allowing them to execute their entire sales cycle; from user acquisition, to transaction/payment collection to customer service/care. For consumers, this means being able to complete daily operations; consume content, purchase goods, reach businesses on demand, etc.

Latest messenger additions to reach 900 million (and growing) users on messenger:

  • Twitter-like usernames to make it easier for consumers to find publishers
  • Image codes people can take pictures of to immediately connect with brands
  • Order receipts and customer service requests dealt with through messenger

We are slowly creeping in phase 2 (monetization):

  • Mobile messaging apps are massive (100’s of millions in MAU and growing)
  • Cheaper devices, falling data prices, increased accessibility and consistently improved feature roll outs are helping propel their growth
  • First stage of bots were strictly about growth — next phase (current phase) companies begin to focus on building out services and monetizing chat apps’ massive user base (publishers & brands)
  • Publishers/brands will begin to invest more into messenger as companies build out their services and provide more avenues for connecting brands, publishers, and advertisers with users

Benefits for publishers:

Facebook is perfectly set up to provide an unmatched user experience for brand marketers:

  • Facebook CRM for brands to interact with people who either follow or begin a chat with them
  • Targeted user information (access to user profile and social graph)
  • Allowance of deep linking to other applications
  • Flexibility for consumers to determine what brands are here to stay/go (gives off a good perception to consumers)

How publishers are using chat bots currently:

  • Creating organic/personalized content delivery
  • Utilizing Facebook’s emoji services to create a more interactive conversation
  • Send/Receive API — sending images and messages with CTA’s
  • Summarization of content on demand

Only thing standing in the way of consumers utilizing chat bots for interaction; static vs. conversational:

This won’t be an issue for too long. In April 2016, Facebook rolled out a new feature to help this and soon facilitate more complex, conversational experiences with the bot. This bot engine helps enable:

  • Conversational experiences to help build automatic chats with users
  • Effectively turns natural language into structured data as a simple way to manage context and drive conversations based on your business or app’s goals


With the addition of adbots, and continuous iterations, bots make it possible for Publishers to be more personal, more proactive, more efficient and effective in the way that they will interact with consumers, allowing a different and more unique experience that we haven’t seen before. As a result, usage by Publishers is set to grow quickly. David Marcus, Head of Messenger, said the company will begin to test out sponsored content messages.

What the current user flow would look like (static):

As of now, as messenger bots are still working to be more complex and interactive, I’ve provided some mockups of how TechCrunch, Huffington Post and The Telegraph could insert sponsored content that fits within their interests:

  • Publisher bot gives 3 CTA’s
  • Consumer presses one (in this case ‘Stories for You’)
  • Based off interests, TechCrunch provides carousel of 3 pieces of content, one of which will be sponsored

Here, for The Telegraph, the same user flow applies, however the publisher places the sponsored content in the middle carousel to make it less noticeable. Content is still relevant and dependant on user interests:

In this version, Huffington post would ad a sponsored (branded) video to the end of the carousel — Content is still relevant and dependant on user interests:

How publishers should roll out sponsored content on Messenger:

Facebook has access to a lot of our personal information (i.e., our likes/interests, our school, professional life, social graph, what content we engage with the most, etc.). As bots become more abstract in nature, Publishers should immediately start:

  1. Taking a proactive as opposed to reactive approach to pushing out content that is relevant, timely and efficient
  2. Deliver personalized content that are seen as helpful and mainly geared toward user’s interests
  3. Sense when to deliver sponsored content based on how long they’ve been engaged with bot (trigger once trust has been won)

One of the important things Publishers will have to look out for isn’t necessarily the design of their campaigns. Publishers should place equal importance on timing of delivery, in order to gain user trust; the most valuable connection between a publisher and consumer nowadays. As Google’s Director of Product recently stated, when building AI systems into mobile, conversational UI needs to be proportionate to the confidence in AI. Essentially saying that trust is very easy to lose and hard to gain. Allowing for a lower confidence UI will allow Publishers to capitalize on users early on.

That being said, it will be key for publishers to measure retention and understand when is an appropriate time to deliver sponsored content:

What should Facebook do?

Facebook’s goal should be to to create a seamless experience for Publishers. This goal should be two-fold, with the overarching mission to allow publishers to create seamless integrations into their existing messenger service:

  1. Allow publishers to get branded content on messenger in a scalable way without too much overhead
  2. Allow the users (usually content managers) who are working day to day to get this done this easily and quick — ideal process of 1–2 minutes (i.e. quick and easy process to change creatives, headlines, stories, etc.)

FB should also look into developing exclusive partnerships with 3rd party sources that allow publishers to monetize (e.g. Polar) so these platforms are incentivized to create plugins solely for Messenger rather than leaving it open for many instant messaging platforms.

For Facebook, theres a massive partnership opportunity in the space of branded content, especially for 3rd party platforms that allow brands to scale branded content and monetize.

Once Facebook helps brands focus on relevance and personalization, they will both achieve success in a promising new channel that will shape many future consumer decisions.

Have any thoughts? Comments? Tweet me @_vibhormathur or email me at