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Facebook focuses on business-to-consumer messaging

Facebook announced tools to make it easier for enterprises to reach customers on Instagram and WhatsApp, saying customers prefer messaging businesses.

Facebook has released development tools that improve the way businesses interact with customers on Instagram and WhatsApp.

The social media company introduced the tools this week at its F8 Refresh developer event. The technology would help businesses communicate with the 64% of consumers that Facebook says favor messaging businesses over calling or emailing them, said Emile Litvak, head of business managing at the social media company.

The new Instagram Messenger API lets businesses integrate Instagram messaging into the third-party platforms they already use to manage customer communication. Companies can also send customer information to service agents and automate responses to frequently asked questions, such as business hours.

Zeus Kerravala, founder of ZK Research, said forcing service workers into multiple apps to message customers and find information delays communications and makes interactions less efficient.

"[By] tying all these things together… you can greatly simplify the workflow," he said.

Upcoming changes to the WhatsApp Business API will also bolster business messaging, Facebook said. One update increases the types of notifications businesses can send, such as when an item is back in stock. Another change lets companies reduce the amount of typing customers need to do by sending them a menu of options.

An interaction in WhatsApp
An update to the WhatsApp Business API will let a business' customers choose from a list of preset responses, instead of typing out a response themselves.

The company announced changes to Facebook Login, which lets people use their Facebook account to log in to a business' app or website. Login will now ask whether users want to receive messages from that company. Facebook said it will make the feature widely available in the coming months.

Facebook also announced an API that provides access to its Spark augmented reality (AR) creation software. Spark lets developers build a virtual space that people can share during a video call. In a demo, Facebook showed people talking around a virtual campfire. The company did not provide a release date for the API, which is in closed beta.

Microsoft Teams and Zoom also offer shared virtual spaces for video conferences.

Facebook executive Chris Barbour said the company plans to release AR glasses, but the product is years away.

Mike Gleason is a reporter covering unified communications and collaboration tools. He previously covered communities in the MetroWest region of Massachusetts for the Milford Daily NewsWalpole TimesSharon Advocate and Medfield Press. He has also worked for newspapers in central Massachusetts and southwestern Vermont and served as a local editor for Patch. He can be found on Twitter at @MGleason_TT.

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