According to reports, Facebook is set to announce at its F8 developer conference that it will be giving third parties the ability to integrate their content into the Messenger experience.

Facebook can be a great friend to publishers and brands. For many, the world's largest social network has been and is a significant source of referral traffic.

But Facebook's friendship with content producers is a complicated one. Changes to the algorithm (previously known as EdgeRank) which Facebook uses to determine what appears in their users’ news feeds, can make or break a content producer's Facebook fortunes.

By one estimate, publishers are losing hundreds of millions of dollars a year because of EdgeRank.

Despite the potential ills of EdgeRank, Facebook's billion user-plus audience will always make it an attractive platform, and it might get even more attractive in the near future if reports that Facebook is looking to open its Messenger app up to third party content are accurate.

According to TechCrunch, Facebook is set to announce at its F8 developer conference that it will be giving third parties the ability to integrate their content into the Messenger experience.

Aaccording to TechCrunch's Josh Constine:

At first, Facebook will focus on how third parties can build ways for content and information to flow through Messenger. Depending on the success of the early experiments, Facebook may then mull bringing more utilities to Messenger.

That could be big news for publishers and brands looking for more ways to reach consumers on the globe's most popular social platform. While the shape of Facebook's Messenger integrations won't be known until the company makes an official announcement, Constine points out that popular Asian messaging applications such as WeChat and Line as examples of the direction Facebook might take.

On Line, official accounts allow users to follow prominent content sources, including news agencies, celebrities and sports teams. They can also purchase a variety of branded content, including stickers and emoji.

WeChat goes well beyond content and has become a platform for commerce. Users of the Chinese service use the chat app to purchase everything from movie tickets to taxi rides. 

Given that Facebook just announced the ability for users to send money to their friends using Messenger, it seems entirely possible that will soon seek to incorporate into Messenger more content and commerce features similar to those found in services like Line and WeChat. 

Starting slow

Because of the risk of spam, which plagued Facebook's news feed in earlier times, Facebook will probably start slow. Content producers and brands shouldn't expect a free-for-all. More likely: small experiments conducted with select partners.

Despite the mouth-watering appeal of being able to insert themselves into the Messenger experience, content producers and brands should take it slow too.

First, it's not clear that Line and WeChat-like experiences will be as well-received in markets like North America and Europe.

Second, while the extent to which Facebook will open Messenger to third parties is still unknown, it is all but certain that content producers and brands will need to treat Messenger differently than the broader Facebook platform. To succeed, they'll have to see how users react, learn the rules of engagement and develop thoughtful Messenger-specific strategies.

Content producers and brands should also take their time because Facebook has made it clear that it will do what it believes is in the best interests of the company and the consumers who use its service. As with EdgeRank, which some suspect Facebook has used to drive ad sales, what Facebook giveth today it can change or take away tomorrow. 

Patricio Robles

Published 23 March, 2015 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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