Businesses can now communicate directly with customers through private messages thanks to a new Facebook feature called Pages Messaging in what is expected to be a forerunner of Messenger for Business.

The new feature will allow businesses to handle complaints and messages in private rather than responding directly on their pages and it will also allow them to embed a "Send Message" button in their ads to allow customers to contact them directly rather than having to first go to the company's Facebook page.

Facebook says "people prefer to communicate with friends and family through private messaging" because it is private and convenient and they want to communicate with businesses in the same way. While it is pretty clear that businesses will embrace this new way of communicating with customers, particularly those vocally complaining about something, it is not clear what the upside for the customer will be.

Every month, more than one billion people visit Pages according to Facebook and this is a key metric for the social network, which is looking to make sure it is the de facto place where businesses interact with their customers.

Of course, as we move towards a mobile-first world, Facebook is keen to make sure it retains the almost 1.5 billion users who use the social network at least once every month. To that end, it has quietly developed a trio of messaging apps (Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp), which between them have a user base of 1.8 billion people.

Long-term bet

During Facebook's most recent earnings call, Mark Zuckerberg was asked about just how his company was going to monetise these mobile messaging apps.

He said: "The long-term bet is that by enabling people to have good organic interactions with businesses, that will end up being a massive multiplier on the value of the monetisation down the road, when we really work on that, and really focus on that in a bigger way. So we ask for some patience on this to do this correctly."

Clearly Facebook is concerned about rushing too many features out to users too fast on mobile and while there have been a number of business-focused features announced for Messenger, the company has yet to fully embrace it as a commercial platform, letting its user base grow organically first.

While the new Pages Messaging system may not have immediate and obvious benefits for customers, for businesses it could provide some very important analytical data. Page admins will be able to see which ads specifically people have clicked on to send them messages, they could earn badges such as "Very responsive to messages" to boost their profile and they will be able to automate responses to common questions to speed up the messaging process.