Companies large and small are increasingly reliant on outside providers to manage their customer communications, enabling consumers to reach businesses through a range of digital means, including email, text messages and social media.
One major link, however, has been missing: The ability to connect these third-party tools with direct messages on
Instagram platform, especially as the social media app has become more of a shopping destination.
Instagram is now allowing developers and businesses to begin integrating messages they get from consumers on its platform into the outside tools many companies use to manage customer communications. To enable this function, developers and businesses use an API, which enables two applications to communicate with one another.
The inability for the third-party tools that help manage such contacts to connect with direct messages on Instagram left companies grasping for details such as order history when customers contacted them on the platform.
The platform’s new tool, Messenger API for Instagram, is meant to help customer service agents and social teams get a more unified look at their increasingly digital customers.
“We think that people are just going to message businesses on Instagram more and more,” said Ankur Prasad, director of product marketing for Facebook and Instagram’s business messaging.
Facebook originally released the Messenger API to enable brands to connect with customers, such as by building chatbots to communicate with users on the Messenger app. Facebook in the past year integrated Messenger and Instagram messaging services to unify the company’s social media apps. But companies using the Messenger API will still see a customer’s message on either a Messenger or Instagram inbox, depending on which channel a person originally used to contact the company.
The new tool adds to Instagram’s push into so-called social commerce, an effort by social-media platforms and marketers to sell more products directly through social media.
Instagram has announced several features in the past year meant to make the platform a shopping destination, such as bringing
checkout and payment system to the app and adding a tab that highlights items for sale.
Shoppers have more choices when they interact with companies than they did in the past, said
chief technology officer at Zendesk Inc., a customer-service platform provider that helped test the new tool. That can be a plus for companies that respond effectively wherever consumers find them, he said.
“The beauty of this channel is if people are already on Instagram interacting with your brand, with your presence, it’s highly likely that they’re going to take advantage of the messaging feature, because it’s there and it’s natural,” Mr. McDermott said.
Hundreds of companies, including meat-and-seafood delivery brand ButcherBox OpCo LLC and fashion retailer TechStyle Fashion Group, have used the tool since it entered limited testing last year.
ButcherBox receives an average of about 8,000 messages a month across all social platforms, the company said. Before the new API, however, the company wasn’t able to efficiently track or measure the types of direct messages it was receiving on Instagram. Now it can group messages by categories, such as delivery questions or inquiries from social-media influencers.
“A lot of what we’re able to start thinking about is how we can take these insights from the types of direct messages we’re getting, have the conversation with the support team, have the conversation with the member experience team, to make small changes,” said Amanda Gray, director of social and community at ButcherBox.
TechStyle, which operates brands like Fabletics LLC and JustFab LLC, will start using the new API to monitor consumer sentiment, said Meera Bhatia, president of expert services at TechStyle. The company receives about one million social messages a year, with Instagram accounting for a large portion of it.
The pandemic forced many companies to increase digital customer service efforts and to forgo classifying consumers as bricks-and-mortar or e-commerce consumers, said Jeannie Walters, chief executive of Experience Investigators, a customer-experience consulting firm. A tool like the Messenger API could help companies create better customer service experiences, she said.
“With this integration, that’s going to allow somebody to be seen and recognized for where they are,” Ms. Walters said.
Write to Ann-Marie Alcántara at [email protected]
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