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Facebook's Integration of Messenger and Instagram Advances Multiple Strategic Goals

Facebook is creating a more powerful network effect across its platforms, bolstering its commerce efforts and making the company harder to break up.
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In early 2019, Mark Zuckerberg declared that Facebook  (FB) - Get Meta Platforms Inc. Class A Report plans to integrate its messaging platforms, while also supporting end-to-end encryption across them.

And shortly afterwards, Zuck said that he expects “future versions of Messenger and WhatsApp to become the main ways people communicate on the Facebook network” within a few years.

On Wednesday, Facebook took a major step towards realizing Zuck’s messaging vision by announcing that users of Facebook Messenger and Instagram’s messaging service will be able to send messages and conduct video calls with each other. The feature, which is initially launching in just a few countries but is promised to launch globally “soon,” won’t require users of one service to have an account for the other.

Notably -- in what’s another sign of the strategic importance Facebook assigns to messaging -- Facebook is simultaneously overhauling Instagram’s messaging service, which was formerly known as Direct but will also be known as Messenger going forward.

Instagram and Facebook Messenger's messaging interfaces going forward. Source: Facebook.

Instagram and Facebook Messenger's messaging interfaces going forward. Source: Facebook.

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Users will be able to add selfie stickers and animated effects to messages; a Snapchat-like “vanish mode” can be used to make messages disappear right after they’re seen; and Facebook’s Watch Together feature (recently launched for Messenger), which lets users jointly view Facebook Watch videos available on Facebook platforms while conducting video calls, will also support Instagram’s IGTV service and (eventually) Reels, its recently-launched TikTok rival.

Facebook is also extending Facebook Messenger features, such as message forwarding and the ability to reply to specific messages within a chat, to Instagram’s messaging service. And it’s adding new privacy/security features to both services, including the ability to report an entire conversation rather than just a single message.

By integrating Facebook Messenger and Instagram’s messaging and calling services (and eventually, also WhatsApp’s), Facebook is creating a more powerful network effect for its platforms at a time when COVID-19 has led messaging and especially video calling activity to soar. This in turn could help the services collectively gain share in an intensely-competitive environment that also features the likes of Snapchat  (SNAP) - Get Snap, Inc. Class A Report, TikTok, Apple’s  (AAPL) - Get Apple Inc. Report iMessage, Zoom  (ZM) - Get Zoom Video Communications, Inc. Class A Report and Houseparty.

Integrating its messaging service could also advance Facebook’s goal of driving more commerce and payments activity on its platforms (and in doing so, give merchants an incentive to spend more on Facebook ads).

Over the last 12 months, Facebook has rolled out a cross-platform payments service (Facebook Pay), as well as dedicated shopping services for both its core app and Instagram. And in early January, Zuckerberg said that he envisioned a future in which “anyone can sell products through a storefront on Instagram, message and support their customers through Messenger, or send money home to another country instantly and at low cost through WhatsApp.”

Last but not least, at a time when the FTC is probing the competitive effects of Facebook’s acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp, more tightly integrating Facebook’s core platforms stands to make it more challenging for any regulator to try to break the company up, while also potentially giving Facebook a talking point if it has to make a case for why keeping core Facebook/Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp under one roof is in the interests of consumers.