PRWeek recently published this article by our Strategy Director, Caroline Lucas-Garner looking at the criticism surrounding Facebook's plans to integrate its three messaging platforms - Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp; and what the move could mean for users and brands. They've been kind enough to let us reproduce it below.
Last month's NYTimes article on the planned integration of Facebook's three key messaging services created a flurry of interest, from trade and mainstream press. Facebook's statement was careful to reinforce the benefit to audiences, creating simplified and seamless messaging services.
Intuitively, there’s lots to applaud with the move - siloed technology platforms need no longer be a barrier to communication.
The theory seems to be that if I’m on Facebook Messenger and want to chat with someone who doesn’t have Messenger but does have WhatsApp, Facebook will facilitate that connection.
But how often does that happen?
From experience, people actually use each platform for very different reasons. As WhatsApp is based on my phone number, I typically use it for more intimate relationships - close friends, and family.
I’m happy to chat with distant friends or those I share an interest with via Groups on Messenger using my name, but am reluctant to share my mobile number with them.
In light of this, it’s not unreasonable that the initial story has been met with cynicism and criticism as another example of a developer putting their desire to regenerate their own platform above the real needs of the audience.
Given that Facebook is still facing scrutiny over the historic treatment of user data - which sparked movements such as #DeleteFacebook - the timing of this announcement can’t be ideal for them.
It seems their hand was forced by aggrieved insiders leaking the news. Creating stronger links between platforms has been a bone of contention before, being one of the key reasons for the departures of both the founders of Instagram and WhatsApp last year.
This latest leak suggests that mutually satisfactory resolutions are yet to be found.
The NYT article suggests the initiative is a pet project of Mark Zuckerberg himself, leading us to speculate that his intentions are less noble than facilitating seamless communication for audiences, and more about reasserting Facebook’s dominance within the social ecosystem.
The key issue worrying employees and users alike centres on the handling and potential sharing of user data across the platforms.
Privacy and encryption were the founding principles of WhatsApp, so the prospect of diluting this is a real worry for the platform and risks abandonment by nervous users.
On the other hand, the prospect of bringing Facebook Messenger and Instagram up to par with WhatsApp’s encryption levels can be no bad thing.
There are also potentially positive implications for brands through more effective targeted advertising across the platforms, driving deeper engagement alongside powerful reach.
Regulators may also have concerns around tightening relationships across platforms.
With grumblings of a Facebook monopoly when the three platforms were initially brought under one ‘roof’, experts worry that a more integrated service would make it harder for competition commissioners to challenge Facebook and separate the platforms, if it was deemed necessary.
So, is this the light at the end of the dark social tunnel for brands, or the death knell for user privacy? We’ll find out next year.