News & Analysis

Facebook opens Instant Article feature to all publishers and launches chatbot messenger

- April 13, 2016 3 MIN READ

Facebook today released a new chatbot messenger platform at its Developer Conference and opened up its Instant Article feature to all publishers, looking to meet industry demands and improve user engagement.

True to the promise it made back in February this year, Facebook will now allow publishers to take advantage of loading articles almost immediately with the Instant Articles feature. Through Instant Articles, publishers can increase user engagement with fast-loading posts and limited amounts of ads, a big win for retaining user attention.

The feature has previously been available to a select number of publishers. However it made sense not to be exclusive as statistics revealed users were more favourable to publishers using the feature: with Instant Articles, posts were read 20 percent more often, had a 70 percent retention rate and were shared 30 percent more often than pieces without the feature.

Instant Articles is basically a HTML5 document where publishers can add text, images, slideshows, maps, video and audio captions.

From today plugins for WordPress and other CMS systems will generate the Instant Articles feed automatically.

Facebook has made sure that functionality will not be compromised by including additional features, with high resolution images becoming interactive through pan, tilt, zoom, and auto play functionality.

Publishers will also be able to distribute native ads as an Instant Article, distinguishing this from editorial content by applying different visuals or sponsored logos.

As a way to reduce friction, Facebook said Instant Articles will load ten times quicker than if they were published from an external website, making article viewing for readers an overall more pleasant experience.

Along with Instant Articles, from today Facebook users will also be able to experience a new messenger chatbot. These chatbots are powered by artificial intelligence and are also partly assisted by humans to deliver automated replies and structured messages from businesses to customers.

The new chatbot is available on Facebook Messenger and will allow businesses to send and receive more than just simple text. The chatbot messenger will consists of a title, image, URL, content description, and a call to action.

The messengers will be structured in a way that Facebook believes will allow all manner of companies to interact with their customers through a range of media, visual, and audio applications. Facebook envisions these chatbots will replace the traditional 1-800 numbers: instead of customers using their phones to call for technical support, they will instead use chatbots for automated responses. These automated responses can be formatted to offer customers support, eCommerce guidance, content and interactive experiences.

Other options of use include sending a message to a business chatbox to order lunch, or advising a media company the types of content you like reading in which the chatbot will offer you stories that match your interests.

CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg explained to TechCrunch that with AI and natural language processing, combined with human help, people will be able to talk to the bots just like they would with friends.

An additional feature that we may see rollout in the future is the ability to perform payments through chabot messenger. With customers being able to connect with businesses and interact on a higher basis through chatbots, conducting payments through the platform via credit card will enable a new point of sale.

Through an additional Live Chat plugin, businesses will be able to embed another contact button to their website. Customers will have the opportunity to get in touch with a business via Messenger to instantly chat a person, rather than a robot.

To help people who are unaware of these new chatbots, Facebook has added in a search bar at the top of Messenger. For companies, the conversations with customers they have already connected with through SMS or phone number matching tools will be shifted to Messenger’s account. The ability to do this is thanks to Facebook’s partnership with Twilio, a US-based cloud communications platform for voice and messaging applications.

As always there are those few customers who take interaction with companies over social media too far, so for those unwanted conversations, Facebook has enabled a block button allowing companies to control what conversations they want to interact with.

While Facebook isn’t the only company to use chatbot features, with many phone and technology services already taking advantage of the technology, they are however the largest social media platform with the biggest user base; these new features can reach over 900 million Messenger users.