Facebook opens its Messenger API for Instagram to all

F8 Refresh, Facebook’s annual developer conference with a new twist — it’s more pared down than in years past, and virtual — is going to be kicking off later today, and ahead of that Facebook is unveiling some news: all businesses can now use the Messenger API to interact with users on Instagram. The feature is opening first to all developers globally, with a phased approach for businesses:

Phase 1 will see Instagram accounts with follower counts of over 10,000 and under 100,000 connect to the API. It plans to expand that to accounts with followers numbering between 1,000 and 100,000 in July (phase 2), with remaining accounts coming online by Q3.

The feature was first announced as a closed beta in October with select businesses — 30 developers and 700 brands in all. Now, any brand or organization using Instagram to interact with customers can use it.

The key point with this tool is that this integration represents a significant step forward in how companies can leverage the wider Facebook platform.

In the past, a brand that wanted to interact with customers either needed to do so directly through Instagram, or via Facebook’s unified business inbox, which are limited how they can be used, especially by companies that might be handling large volumes of traffic, or keen to be able to link up those customer interactions with wider customer service databases.

The Messenger API, by contrast, can be integrated into any third-party application that a company or brand might be using to manage communication, whether it’s a social media management platform like Hootsuite or Sprinklr, or a CRM application that can bring in other kinds of customer data, for example warranty information or loyalty card numbers.

Facebook noted that one of the key takeaways from the closed beta was that brands and companies wanted better ways of managing communications from one place; and another was that many of them are making more investments in software to better manage their communications and workflows. So extending the Messenger API to Instagram was a feature that was long needed in that regard.

The move to expand the Messenger API to Instagram makes sense in a couple of different ways. For starters, Facebook has been turning up the volume for some time on how it leverages Instagram’s commercial potential, starting with advertising but expanding into areas like conversation between brands or businesses and users, and most recently, enhanced shopping features. Facebook also notes that 90% of Instagram users today follow at least one business, so creating a better route for managing those conversations is a logical move.

At the same time, Facebook has been working on ways of better linking up its various apps and platforms — which include Facebook itself, Messenger, WhatsApp, Instagram and Oculus, not just for users to interact across them but to help businesses leverage them in a more unified social strategy. Rolling out the Messenger API — created originally to help brands interact with bots and manage conversations on Messenger — to include support for Instagram fits into both of those bigger strategies.

And for those wondering why it’s being announced ahead of F8 Refresh? Perhaps it’s a hint of what is the social network’s bigger priorities for this year’s event: partnerships to enable more business to take place on the social networking giant’s platforms.