Facebook knows it's a good idea to allow businesses to leverage its Messenger app

Now it's letting bots into the party.

At its Facebook Developers Conference at the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco today, the social media giant launched its Messenger Platform (Beta) with bots. Facebook will deploy its bots to provide Messenger users with automated subscription content like weather and traffic updates in addition to customized communications like receipts, shipping notifications and live automated messages.

The bot engine is built on Wit.ai, which allows developers to build apps and devices you can talk or text to. Facebook bought that speech recognition platform in 2013. The bots are free for companies to deploy and maintain in Messenger, according to a Facebook spokesperson.

Instant Opportunity

Today's news marks yet another way businesses can use Facebook. Despite this free usage, businesses certainly pay to play on Facebook: Facebook for Business, the marketing and advertising engine, helped Facebook make $17.93 billion in revenue in 2015. No social money-maker comes close: Twitter reported annual revenue of $2.2 billion in 2015. LinkedIn's revenue for 2015 was $2.99 billion.

Facebook Messenger includes more than 900 million user and more than 50 million businesses. It's the second largest Messenger app, according to Facebook. Facebook's own WhatsApp is on top with more than 1 billion users. Facebook acquired WhatsApp for $19.3 billion in 2014.

"Forward-thinking companies are already using Messenger to provide customer service," Scott Horn, chief marketing officer of Campbell, Calif.-based [24]7, told CMSWire. 

"You can hail an Uber through Messenger and track the status of your latest purchase within one single platform. Some companies are even starting to incorporate automation, such as chat bots, within Messenger so that consumers can get accurate answers to questions in a natural, conversational way. This year, we expect Messenger to continue its evolution from a messaging app to the place where you do everything."

David Marcus, Facebook's vice president of messaging products, said in a blog post the company's been "laser focused on creating the best and most engaging experiences." 

"Part of this effort," he wrote, "has been partnering with a few businesses to build deeper interactions with their customers on Messenger in a way that is contextual, convenient and delightful, with control at its core." 

Facebook also launched today the Messenger Send/Receive API, which will support sending and receiving texts in addition to images and interactive rich bubbles containing calls-to-action. Developers through these Facebook updates get access to documents to build bots for Messenger. They must submit them for review to Facebook, which promised to "gradually accept and approve submissions."

People = Power

"We know we can’t serve businesses well without putting people in control, so that’s exactly what we’ve done," Marcus wrote. 

Facebook has built in a new suite of controls and policies. It allows Messenger users to mute and block communications. 

Learning Opportunities

"There are also strict policies for developers and businesses to uphold and we will have review processes to ensure we carefully evaluate how our community is responding," Marcus wrote.

Facebook's also built discovery tools such as plugins for websites, usernames and Messenger Codes and a search surface in Messenger. Facebook News Feed ads will enable the opening of threads on Messenger. Some messages usually sent through SMS will be sent on Messenger.

Companies Join Party

Some businesses have already leveraged the new platform. 

Salesforce announced today Salesforce for Messenger Platform. It will be powered by Salesforce Lightning to deliver what Salesforce officials call "personalized engagement at scale with CRM data" across sales, service, marketing and apps.

How so? Salesforce cited the example of a retailer embedding a Messenger plugin on the checkout workflow on its website so a customer can ask any final questions before making a purchase. A customer's previous sales, service and marketing account records are already accounted for, allowing the company to personalize communications.

"Now with Messenger, Facebook is inviting companies to engage their customers in new ways on its platform at scale,” Alex Dayon, president and chief product officer at San Francisco-based Salesforce, said in a statement. 

Zendesk also jumped on the Facebook Messenger train. The San Francisco provider released today Zendesk Message, which officials promised will combine automated interactions with live support conversations in Messenger. 

Zendesk cited Spring, a digital shopping platform available on mobile and web, which integrates human chat into a Messenger bot experience to allow users to shop, discover or browse Spring’s assortment.

“Messenger is more than just another support channel: it’s becoming the destination where customers can browse, buy and receive important information,” Royston Tay, general manager of messaging at Zendesk, said in a statement. “Today’s businesses must meet customers wherever they are and combine the personal touch of human interactions with the convenience of automated activities through bots.”