What Facebook got wrong with the Messenger switch

I read an article recently where Mark Zuckerberg explained why Facebook made the switch to two separate apps. His reasoning was that the best apps are singularly focused and splitting the apps in two allows Facebook to build a better experience for users. By having both News Feed and Messenger together, there was friction for users; to quickly respond to a message they had to first wait for News Feed to load. Personally, I think these are reasonable reasons to make the switch. But even so, I have yet to download Messenger. The problem with the launch was not that Facebook split the apps, it was how they went about it. After thinking about it a bit, I feel like they really made three clear failures.

1. Facebook thought their competitors in this case were other messaging apps. Facebook believed that they were competing here with SMS, SnapChat, WhatsApp and others. But really, their biggest competition was themselves. Users were used to a product being one way and didn’t complain about it. Messenger has been out for several years and was barely a blip in the messaging app pool. Users didn’t have a need for it. Facebook provided the feature in their main app and did so in a way that met user needs. So to make the switch, users are now being asked to do more work than they did previously for something they didn’t ask for nor want. And the ask was done without providing any additional value.

2. Messages wasn’t removed from the main Facebook app. Facebook wants users to use Messenger. They have big monitization plans for it. Because of this, they left the tab in the app to remind everyone, “Messenger exists! Go download it!” But again, it’s a negative message because when a friend messages you, the badge sits there and taunts and reminds you that Facebook is making you do more work.

3. Messages is a required feature in Facebook the service. So friends can message you there whether you want them to or not. You can turn off chat on desktop, but it doesn’t actually stop friends from messaging you. Because of this, you can’t choose to not take part in this service. So again, we’re back to that taunting badge.

 

I think Facebook has the right idea and downloading a second focused app is not that big of a deal. Additionally, I think Facebook can fix this. Here’s what I would recommend.

1. Make Facebook messaging a separate opt-in feature that uses Facebook login and friends lists. That way, friends can be warned, “Hey, you can’t message this person. They haven’t opted-in.” This should not just apply to mobile, but across all of Facebook. If friends are using it, there will be enough peer pressure to opt-in. There is a real life example that shows this tactic works. It’s called Facebook.

2. Provide real value with messaging that can’t be found in all of the competition. It’s not just about chatting. What makes Facebook messaging different? What need is not being met that Facebook can provide? It might be as simple as connecting with your friend list, but it may also be more complicated like the ability to share files, group chat, or send money.

3. Remove the messages tab from the Facebook app. Seriously, it’s just taunting users. And for the ones who are mad about the change, it just makes us more mad and resolute.