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What’s next for bots on Facebook Messenger? Maybe helping companies sell.

The social network’s David Marcus says the latest tools will drive more business.

Kurt Wagner / Recode

As Facebook’s VP of messaging products, David Marcus says his team’s main purpose is to make Facebook Messenger do things “that you can’t do anywhere else.” Sometimes, though, new ideas don’t click into place right away.

On the latest episode of Recode Decode, Marcus spoke with Recode’s Senior Social Media Editor Kurt Wagner about how Facebook wants to help businesses talk to their customers. To do that, it’s rethinking and updating the “bot” platform that launched last year.

“At first, everyone over-rotated on, 'This is the power of a conversation and everything needs to be conversation,’” Marcus said. “The reality is, if you can tap on a button that has a word in it, rather than typing it, you’d much rather do that.”

“The intention was never to say to everyone, ‘You need to build a bot,’” he added. “A ‘bot' is actually a term we use very freely with developers as a means to say, ‘You can automate some of those interactions.’ People, consumers, don’t want bots, they want to interact with businesses or services and they don’t really care whether it’s automated or not automated, whether it’s actually a bot or not a bot. They just want a great experience.”

You can listen to Recode Decode on Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, Spotify (mobile only), TuneIn, Stitcher and SoundCloud.

One of the biggest changes announced at this year’s F8 conference is a tab inside Messenger to help users find bots they might like. Marcus acknowledged that the company will have to proactively convince consumers that they should be opening Messenger instead of picking up the phone.

“Sixty-five percent of interactions that are not in-person between businesses and people are still conducted over the phone, which is unpleasant for us consumers and costly and impractical for businesses,” he said. “The real question is, can we reinvent how people interact with businesses and services? If it’s services, what are those services that are not making [your] home screen for apps and that could work inside of a Messenger conversation?”

He explained that calling a company on the phone is “synchronous and not instantaneous” (translation: You have to wait on hold and can’t go do something else while you wait). And he argued that a text chat with a business could be better than email, too.

“Messaging is instant but asynchronous, and you’ve got notifications to bring you back,” Marcus said. “It’s got identity, and it’s got context, unlike email, where every time you start a new conversation, it’s a new thread.”

He shot down the idea that Facebook would build a mobile operating system to encourage this sort of use, or that it would try to take a cut of sales made because of Messenger. Instead, the company believes it can prove that Messenger improves sales, and that that will indirectly lead to more ad sales.

“If we drive business outcomes at a higher rate, then those businesses will want to open more of these conversations and, as a result, will buy more ads to open these conversations,” Marcus said.

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