Facebook is the social network for most of the world, yet its future may lie in the hands of its messaging platform, Messenger, and the army of chatbots that are beginning to populate its landscape.

More than 900 million people use Messenger, which means there is a huge audience for any business that can figure out how to utilize the platform in a way that fits with its purpose and context.

Currently, more than 50 million businesses use Messenger, according to Facebook. Over one billion messages are sent between potential customers and those businesses each month, and yours could be one of them.

Here are six ways to use Facebook Messenger and chatbots to connect with customers and promote your business.

Use Messenger for Customer Service

Messenger is about connecting people for the purpose of communicating privately or in groups. Its most obvious use in a business context is customer service.

For example, the other day I started to call my vet regarding an appointment for our dog using my smartphone. As I typed the number, out of nowhere a Messenger “chat head” popped up suggesting that I send a text instead.

More out of curiosity than need, I sent a message and within the span of about a minute, the vet had responded asking how he could help. After a brief conversation, the appointment was set.

I could have also messaged the vet through the clinic’s Facebook Page, to achieve the same results.

That’s just one way to use Messenger for customer service. Other’s include:

  • Answering customer questions. A customer or prospect may wish to talk with you about a product or service you offer before making a purchase.
  • Handling customer complaints. It’s much better to handle a customer complaint in the privacy of Messenger than in a comment thread on a Facebook Page post.

Messenger is morphing into the new 1-800 number, in much the same way Twitter did a few years ago, only better because the conversation is private from the get-go.

Messenger provides several ways you can promote your business: usernames, links, codes and welcome messages

Messenger Usernames

Facebook is bringing business page usernames (facebook.com/yourbusinessname) to the forefront, making it easier for people to contact you.

Each Page has a unique username that, soon, will appear prominently on the page, just underneath the page title. It will have an “@” symbol before it the same as Twitter usernames.

People find and connect with you using the username on both Facebook and Messenger.

Messenger Links

Messenger Links are another new offering. They use a page’s username to create a short link (m.me/yourbusinessname) that, when clicked, opens a conversation with the business in Messenger.

Just add your username to the end of the URL m.me/___ to get your Messenger Link.

Messenger Codes

Messenger provides users with codes similar to QR codes that people can scan using their Messenger app to start a conversation with your business.

Facebook Messenger Code

To get the messenger code, go to your Facebook page admin and look for the message inbox. You should find a round-shaped icon at the bottom left-hand corner containing the code.

When you click the icon, a screen appears that presents the code, an option to download it, and a quick demo of how it works.

You can share your code with fans and followers using it as your profile image, in a page post, on your website, in an ad, on business cards, store signage, or just about anywhere you can think of.

Messenger Greetings

Messenger Greetings are customizable notes from the business that appear automatically in a new message thread before the start of the conversation.

Companies can use this text to greet people, set a friendly tone, and share relevant information.

You can write a message of up to 250 characters that people receive as soon as they message you.

Build a Chatbot

Facebook has opened up Messenger so that anyone can build a chatbot on top of the platform.

(For those unfamiliar, a chatbot is a service that you interact with via a chat interface like Facebook Messenger. You can have a conversation with the chatbot, which has human characteristics and uses artificial intelligence to interpret what you’re saying, based on the words used and your intent.)

Why would your business want to use a bot?

Ted Livingston, CEO of Kik, a messaging app that has its own bot network, put it this way in an article on Medium: “Chat apps will be the new Internet, chatbots the new websites.” He believes bots are the beginning of a new Internet.

If Livingston’s vision of the future is too much to wrap your head around, think of it this way: Compared to mobile apps, bots are simpler and easier to use.

Rather than downloading an app, familiarizing yourself with its interface, using it once or twice, then sequestering it away with other apps to gather dust in some distant neglected page on your smartphone, bots open in an interface that is familiar, and they get the job done with as little fanfare possible.

How could your business use a chatbot? Here are some examples:

Burger King’s bot can take food orders; Dutch airline KLM provides boarding passes and customer service with its bot; CNN uses one to deliver news; and Spring, a shopping startup, uses a chatbot to offer personalized shopping.

Spring Personalized Shopping Bot

“Bots can provide anything from automated subscription content like weather and traffic updates to customized communications like receipts, shipping notifications and live automated messages, all by interacting directly with the people who want to get them,” said Facebook in a news article announcing the service.

Smaller businesses can get in the game using free chatbot builders, which require no coding knowledge. Bots are built using pre-defined templates.

Get to Know Your Customers and Gather Data

Chatbots can help you get to know your customer better. Chatting with someone on Messenger gives you access to the person’s Facebook page, which usually contains lots of information including demographics (age, gender, location) and psychographics (interests, likes, event, communication style).

The more you know about what your customers want, the better you can serve them. The more personalized the service, the greater the likelihood they will do business with you again.

Distribute Content from Your Website or Blog

Content distribution within Messenger is not solely the purview of major media brands like CNN. You can distribute news and information via an RSS feed, images or text. By asking the right questions, you’ll know just what your customers want.

Convert Prospects into Customers

Since you have the ability to ask questions, you can collect information and know when to send the right message at the right time — activity that can generate leads and sales.

Messenger is a new distribution channel, so you have to experiment to learn what works for your business.

Facebook Forbids Advertising on Messenger

A final note: One way you cannot use Messenger is to advertise.

“Messenger may not be used for advertising, marketing, or for sending promotional content of any kind,” Facebook said. “Marketing or promotional content on Messenger will only be allowed via sponsored messages which at this time is in closed alpha.”

That said, count on the fact that, in time, Facebook will make advertising available via Messenger.