#ConvComm Crash Course
Whenever people stop me on the street and ask “James, what’s the top tech trend to look out for in 2016?” I always pause for a second, as if deep in thought. The pause is purely for effect, as I know my answer. It’s conversational commerce. Frequently shortened to #ConvComm, conversational commerce is growing non-stop, new features created every day for messaging apps like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Slack.
For a comprehensive list of #ConvComm apps, bots, features, take a look at Chris Messina’s Product Hunt collection. The really cool kids out there will recognise him as the inventor of the hashtag. He’s the one to blame.
Conversational commerce is a simple idea. It’s businesses using messaging apps to communicate with customers. It includes people making a purchase, customer service issues, notifications that an item is back in stock. To use a current example, Uber allow customers to order a cab through Facebook Messenger. In a group chat with friends, you can tap a button to request a ride, everyone can see updates, they can pay their share through the app. Pretty clever, right?
The end of apps
Trigger warning for people that don’t like feeling old, the iPhone celebrates its 10th birthday next year. Remember the early days of the app store? Every day, there was something new to download and companies were clamouring to release their own dedicated app. “There’s an app for that” was the motto, despite “that” often not needing an app.
Conversational commerce is based around streamlining interactions with businesses on your mobile. Instead of clogging up your phone with 60 million apps, you can have one or two that provide everything you could possibly need.
If you’re familiar with apps in Asia, WeChat and Line already offer this. Conversational commerce works, mass markets have embraced it. It’s coming.
What this means for small businesses
Small businesses aren’t big enough to justify standalone apps. Bigger businesses had an advantage as the app culture developed, they could provide a better mobile experience than us little guys.
That advantage disappears as conversational commerce becomes more mainstream. There’s no need to pay for a developer to create an app for your company, you can just use Messenger, or Slack, or WhatsApp. You get all the benefits of an app, none of the cost.
These developments are in their infancy and messaging apps are testing and rolling out new features each week. Example of a recent one: Facebook business pages can reply to any customer comment with a private message.
Every messaging app is making moves in this direction. Snapchat introduced Snapcash, Twitter allows users to order Domino’s pizza with a tweet. The social media management tool Buffer now offers Respond, a feature based around providing customer support through your social channels.
A side effect to the growth of conversational commerce: your Facebook Business page just got a lot more important. It turns into an online store. You’ll want to advertise your page, bring users to it, let everyone know how to find you on Facebook.
The key features of #ConvComm
Based around reading and replying to messages, there’s a clear issue. Who sends the messages? Currently, it looks like we’ll be chatting with bots. A simple automated program will make sense of the sent message, it will provide an appropriate response.
If you’re sceptical about the automation aspect, I get it. I am too. But let’s not forget, we’re not making small talk with the bot, we’re not chatting about the weather with Facebook M. We’ll be entering a short message that makes purchasing and payments much quicker.
This leads onto another key feature. Commands. A few months ago, Peach was released. To set itself aside from other messaging apps, Peach gave users access to a series of commands, or “magic words.” Type in weather, the current forecast appears. Type here, and your location pops up.
Slack offers a similar set of commands, such as /join, /help. There are a few commands on Messenger, such as @fbchess and @dailycute, but expect more and more. Commands have a slight learning curve, but so does every new piece of technology.
You can stay up to date with the latest conversational commerce developments by heading to Twitter and typing in #ConvComm. I’ll also take this moment to apologise to anyone that watched the Snapcash video, that ad is wash-your-eyes-with-soap bad. You can find Digital Media Team on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter (@digitalmediatm) for the latest social media news and strategy.