Facebook is launching a new app to let small business owners manage pages and profiles across Facebook, Messenger, and Instagram, COO Sheryl Sandberg announced in a blog post Thursday. The app, called Facebook Business Suite, will merge the back end infrastructure of the three apps so small business owners can receive messages from customers, alerts, and notifications in one unified inbox. It plans to add WhatsApp integration in the future, the company confirmed to The Verge.
The app will also let small businesses post to Facebook and Instagram at the same time and provide insights about how ad campaigns are performing on the platforms. Much of this cross-posting functionality already is available for admins of Instagram business accounts linked to Facebook Pages
Integrating its services has been on Facebook’s to-do list for a while; last year, The New York Times reported the company was planning to combine the messaging capabilities of WhatsApp, Instagram, and Messenger, keeping all three as separate apps but allowing cross-app communications. And Axios reported that Facebook was preparing a unified messaging for business feature as early as February 2019.
Last month, we had an inkling that Instagram and Facebook Messenger chats were being integrated, but this is the first formal announcement of such a feature specifically tailored for small business owners.
Of course, Facebook’s hints that it was planning to combine its messaging apps also has raised concerns among antitrust regulators. As part of a 2019 report on Facebook’s privacy practices, the European Parliament warned that the social media giant’s plan to integrate its messaging posed a potential threat to competition. “The scale of this data sharing risks being massively increased, given the news that, by early 2020, Facebook is planning to integrate the technical infrastructure of Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp, which, between them, have more than 2.6 billion users,” the report stated.
Along with the new business app, Facebook released the third edition of its ongoing research into how small businesses are managing during the coronavirus pandemic and a research study it commissioned from Deloitte about consumer purchasing patterns. Forty-eight percent of consumers surveyed said they had increased their online spending since the outbreak began, and 73 percent of those who started patronizing new businesses during the pandemic said at least one was a small business.
Facebook plans to make the business tool available to small businesses first and roll them out to larger businesses in the future.