Facebook opens Messenger for Instagram to any business. Previously, it was a beta test for a limited group.

To help keep online shopping surging, Facebook has opened up its Instagram messaging developer tool, so anyone can build new messaging experiences where consumers already congregate and shop.

At its virtual developer conference, F8 Refresh, on Wednesday, the social media giant opened up general availability for the Messenger API for Instagram, a developer tool that has been in beta testing since October. At the time, just 30 developers and 700 brands participated, but now any brand or company can use it to build new messaging experiences for customer support and service.

The move looks like a step up from previous ways brands and users on Instagram have been connecting.

Businesses had to launch Instagram to chat up customers or use Facebook’s unified business inbox, which didn’t work well for companies with intense customer communication demands at scale or who wanted to bring those chats into other customer service databases or platforms. But with the Messenger API, brands can bring Instagram chats into these and other applications for data insights and optimization, record-keeping, loyalty programs or just to keep tabs on their massive firehose social media communications.

For instance, L’Oréal Luxury Malaysia knew that many of its beauty customers were active Insta users, explained Eda Lim, head of digital for L’Oréal Luxury Malaysia, in a video streamed during the presentation. But its customer care agents had trouble managing the large volume of direct messages, comments and Instagram Stories from the community.

“Our solution was to partner with Jumper.ai to integrate Messenger API for Instagram and build an automated experience for Messenger,” she said. “With that digital assistant, we could easily connect with people on Instagram, and have a conversation with them through messaging on Instagram.”

The business experienced a 30 percent increase in qualified leads compared to other channels, she added, a 20 percent conversion rate from consultations to actual purchases and a reduction in registration wait times for beauty consultations to just two days.

Commerce platform Paloma believes messaging features could become high-performing sales channels, and it closed a $4 million seed round to pursue it. It just launched Instagram Sales Inbox using the Messenger API, hoping to turn Instagram Messaging into a scalable personalized shopping channel for brands and help businesses sell more through the DMs.

The broader availability of Messenger for Instagram could have beauty and fashion brands lining up.  Courtesy image

Instagram’s not the only Facebook platform to get the messaging treatment.

WhatsApp announced that it will support a broader array of messages as well, so retailers and other organizations can stay in touch with people and keep them informed of things like product availability, local appointments and more. Users will also get reply buttons and a stock set of messages to spare them the drudgery of manually pecking out common replies. That should save a lot of hunting, pecking and swiping, considering more than 175 million people already use WhatsApp for business messaging.

Facebook also revealed a new feature called Login Connect with Messenger, which lets users opt into messaging with businesses. It’s still in testing, but will launch in the coming months.

The company has been steadily evolving its messaging services, particularly as the coronavirus pandemic era poured rocket fuel on e-commerce, and it’s clearly not done yet. In fact, it’s heading into new territory — augmented reality.

Spark AR, Facebook’s AR development tool, announced a new ability to build coordinated AR experiences for video calling on Messenger, Instagram and Portal. Think of it as moving augmented reality from a solo effort, with a single user on a single screen, to a multiuser and multiscreen experience.

It’s available for Messenger now and will open up for Instagram and Portal soon, and the Spark AR team is now accepting applications for the AR Video Calling beta.

This joins another intriguing Spark AR update called “Multiclass Segmentation.” Effectively, the function allows AR creators to augment multiple segments of a body all at once.

As a recent blog post on Instagram explained, “Now you can combine multiple segmentation textures, including hair, skin and person, together in the same effect. We’re also making it easier to control multiple texture properties, like edge softness, which creates an outline around the person in your scene, and mask size, which adjusts the size of the outline.”

Spark AR just got more real: Multiclass Segmentation lets creators combine different textures for hair, skin and person in one effect.  Courtesy image

Ultimately, it means developers will be able to create more realistic and complex AR filters — from fantasy character effects to high-fidelity virtual clothing — and with a greater amount of granular control.

According to Facebook, Spark AR is now the most used mobile AR platform in the world, with a community exceeding 600,000 creators from 190 countries and more than 2 million published AR effects across the Facebook family of apps and devices.

The community has grown so much, in fact, that it apparently warrants its own awards program. And so the company obliged, announcing the new AR Creator Awards.

It isn’t quite the Oscars, but given the technical prowess involved, it could yield an equally audacious feast for the eyes…and then some.