Facebook wants to be where you run your business online. To be fair, it’s already pretty good at it. Regardless of what you think of Facebook’s many issues–like privacy, fake news, or content moderation–when it comes to providing businesses a platform to reach customers, it’s hard to argue there are many more effective options.
Still, it’s trying to get better. Or, at least, stickier. We’ll get back to that part in a minute.
Facebook announced on Monday that it would spend $1 billion to acquire Kustomer, a CRM that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to help businesses manage customer support. Mostly that means it gathers customer communications across various channels such as social media, email, chat messages, and website chatbots. That way, no matter how a customer communicates with your business, you can keep all of the conversations managed in one place.
In a blog post about the acquisition, Facebook says its goal is “to give businesses access to best-in-class tools that deliver excellent service and support.” One of the primary ways it wants to do that is with its messaging tools.
Facebook says that 175 million people already communicate with businesses using WhatsApp, the world’s most popular messaging app. It makes sense, then, that Facebook would want to provide another tool to help businesses. After all, every feature Facebook adds to help you run your business is another reason to keep using Facebook.
That’s the part about stickiness. Facebook’s ultimate goal is to keep individuals and businesses using Facebook more and more. When they do, it adds up to more opportunity for those businesses to advertise to all of those users.
Sure, most people think of Facebook as a social network where people share photos, and memes, and updates about all the things we don’t do anymore because we’re living in 2020. Except, that’s now how Facebook thinks of itself.
Facebook doesn’t see itself as a social media network. It sees itself as a platform for small businesses. The social media part is just what attracts the customers. It’s why the platform is so powerful for businesses. You can literally reach almost anyone that might possibly be one of your customers on Facebook.
You have a Facebook Business Page, that’s your home page. Customers interact with you on Facebook Messenger. You can even upload your product catalog and people can buy from it within Facebook or Instagram.
One of the interesting things this move shows is that Facebook sees itself in competition not just with other social networks, but with platforms like Shopify or Etsy. For that matter, it’s competing with business website platforms like Squarespace, Wix, or WordPress.
At some point, Facebook would rather you just ditch your website. That actually might seem tempting. What’s the point of paying for that channel when you can just do all the same things on Facebook. And, for Facebook, it means opportunities to expand the business beyond its core advertising platform, which is already the second-largest in the world.
It’s worth mentioning that of the $70 billion, in the most recent quarter of this year, roughly $249 million of it was from non-advertising products, and almost all of that was from Oculus–Facebook’s VR headset division. Everything else is about the ads.
WhatsApp is actually an interesting case. Facebook’s strategy with WhatsApp has been different than its other products. It doesn’t sell any ads within the messaging app, but this year, the company started allowing businesses to use WhatsApp to send customers receipts or order confirmations, in exchange for a small fee.
In the long run, those small fees could start to add up if Facebook can make the care that there’s really no reason for a small business to have any presence online outside of one of its properties.
But, as a small business owner, you have to ask yourself whether you’re really comfortable placing all of your eggs in Facebook’s basket. When you build your business on someone else’s platform, you not only have to play by their rules, you have to recognize that they will make decisions that aren’t in your best interests.
That’s fine when you have multiple ways to reach your customers, including your own physical store or website. If you’re locked in, on the other hand, that can mean you’re out of luck when the rules or circumstances change.
Overall, Facebook’s most compelling benefit, for both businesses and users, has always been that it’s free. If you start a small business, Facebook has almost all of the tools you need to reach and sell to customers–most of it for free. The problem is, the more you buy into the platform, the more you lose control over your own destiny, and the more it could cost you in the long run.