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Facebook Beta-Tests Lead Gen, Appointment Booking for Messenger

image for Jakraphong Photography / Shutterstock
Jakraphong Photography / Shutterstock

Facebook announced changes geared toward businesses at its 2019 F8 Conference. The social media company is beta-testing features for Facebook Messenger that are designed to help businesses generate leads and improve appointment booking. These changes illustrate Facebook's enhanced focus on small businesses, as the company recently announced other features designed to help SMBs.

Currently, Businesses on Messenger lets consumers and businesses interact straight from the Messenger app. It can be used as a customer support option to help retain customers and answer their questions. It can also be an avenue to present products to customers, helping them narrow down the perfect product for them in the Marketplace. The platform allows businesses to accept payment right from Messenger. [Related: Facebook for Business: Everything You Need to Know]

Here's what you need to know about the new features being beta-tested for Messenger.

Facebook is implementing lead generation templates directly into Ads Manager. The ads can send customers to an automated message, which allows Facebook Messenger to handle the conversation with automated responses to decipher what product or service the customer wants. This can happen in just a handful of messages, making the process reasonably simple.

For small businesses, this tool seems like a helpful asset. Small businesses strapped for time and resources will be able to use Facebook's technology to better generate leads without constantly monitoring the Messenger app or desktop version and responding to either spam accounts or soft leads. The automated conversations make it easier to generate and convert leads. The company included a detailed example on its announcement page of a clothing company using an ad that leads to an automated conversation.

According to Facebook, General Motors used the feature to generate 3,000 leads over an eight-week span, and the company converted at a rate 30% higher than other digital marketing channels.

The other key feature Facebook announced was an improvement to appointment booking. The big news here is that the appointment-booking feature can integrate with a business's calendar system. This helps customers better understand what appointment times are truly available. If customers do this through Facebook, assuming the calendar is accurate, it can save companies time by reducing the number of phone calls to book appointments or time spent monitoring an online booking system. A handful of automated messages can make the process simpler than the way businesses currently book appointments. This service is effectively like using a chatbot, with one specific post triggering the bot.

Facebook's announcement included an example of a hypothetical appointment-booking interaction. The original post gives people an option to message the company to book an appointment. Assuming the user clicks on the post, the rest of the booking process becomes seamless in this example.

"Sephora worked with a developer partner, Assist, to build an appointment booking experience on the Messenger Platform, which led to a 60% increase in in-store bookings compared to other channels," Facebook said in its announcement.

It's important to note that these changes are still in beta testing. Facebook believes they will become available at some point in 2019. At their best, these features can be extremely valuable. At their worst, malfunctions with the messaging system could turn customers off from the platform. Businesses should keep an eye on how these functions work once they're unveiled to the greater public.

Overall, it's clear the company is trying to place an emphasis on businesses. This can be good and bad. For SMBs, it's good to see Facebook's commitment to smaller businesses with a few changes. On the other hand, if you're struggling to generate leads or book appointments on Facebook, your competitors may have an added advantage over you. Companies like GM and Sephora can hire staff members to focus solely on Facebook Messenger duties, while small businesses likely don't have this luxury.  

For now, SMBs should keep tabs on Facebook's new tools. While monitoring the new tools, it could be worth testing them out, but pay attention to how the changes are accepted. If the Messenger features experience issues, you may ultimately be better off avoiding those options. If they work, you may convert leads at a higher rate due to the use of the app.

The new 2019 Messenger options come in addition to a few changes announced in previous years. Those capabilities include AR support and translation features.

Augmented reality is coming to the Messenger platform, with the combined efforts of Facebook's Camera Effects feature and Facebook AR Studio, which was introduced two years ago. Businesses on Messenger can prompt users to open their camera, which can be populated with custom filters and effects themed around your brand. These effects will allow developers to create unique experiences for users on their apps, helping them make shopping decisions by displaying a virtual sample of the product in front of them.

Several brands generated their AR experiences last year, including Kia, which allowed users to look at a customized car of their choosing in their driveway without having to visit the dealer. Nike worked on a feature that gives users a preview of upcoming styles, and Sephora created an option for users to virtually sample their makeup and new looks with AR. Nike's launch proved to produce the quickest buzz. Businesses interested in developing AR experiences with Facebook can sign up for the beta program.

Messenger expanded to allow businesses to connect with users all around the world with a new translation feature. M Suggestions detects different languages between users and offer to translate for them. This is a push for more international commerce through the platform. M Suggestions was originally part of Facebook's personal assistant, M, but that beta test was shut down in January of 2018. M Suggestions remains a part of Messenger, but it's certainly not the breakthrough the company hoped for when it introduced M.

M serves as a good example of why you should monitor Facebook's changes. Just because the company announces an exciting beta program doesn't mean that service will ever make it to market. If you're struggling to generate leads or interact consistently with customers, Facebook Messenger is an avenue worth exploring, and it's important to monitor the new additions to the platform closely. Your social media strategy likely includes Facebook, which makes these new beta programs worth noting.

Additional reporting by Andreas Rivera.

Bennett Conlin

Bennett is a B2B editorial assistant based in New York City. He graduated from James Madison University in 2018 with a degree in business management. During his time in Harrisonburg he worked extensively with The Breeze, JMU’s student-run newspaper. Bennett also worked at the Shenandoah Valley SBDC, where he helped small businesses with a variety of needs ranging from social media marketing to business plan writing.