Facebook Introduces Messenger Rooms

Lance Concannon Lance Concannon, Marketing Director, Europe

Anyone who has logged into Facebook recently will notice a new feature prominently displayed at the top of the screen. There are now “Rooms” where users can invite their friends to a video chat via Messenger. This feature is meant to encourage people to create group chats as it allows up to 50 users to gather in a Room.

How Do Messenger Rooms Work?
Messenger Rooms are shown at the top of the page, displaying photos of your friends. If you click on a photo, Facebook will suggest that you invite this friend to a Room. In this manner, the feature is a bit misleading, as it appears that by clicking on someone, you can join an active event. In fact, it’s up to you to start a video chat unless someone invites you first.

Users can invite up to 50 people to a Room, either from Facebook or the Messenger app. People can join your Room even if they don’t have a Facebook account. The feature has been gradually rolled out over the last month but is now visible to most Facebook users globally.

While Facebook users are encouraged to start meetings and invite their friends, one of the feature’s advantages is that anyone can open a Room and invite anyone, whether on Facebook or not. You could, for example, open a Room and share the link via email, Twitter or anywhere else online. You can also share links on a Facebook page or in a group.

Why Did Facebook Create Messenger Rooms?
Online chatting services such as Zoom have become increasingly popular recently. While group chats were already widely used, the coronavirus lockdown has resulted in a surge of such events. In addition to Zoom, people can start or join chats on Skype, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams and other applications. Messenger Rooms were largely created to give Facebook its own video chat room platform, so users don’t have to go to other sites for such social events.

Facebook vs. Zoom
Zoom, one of the most widely used chat services, makes it easy for users to start and join discussions simply by sharing a link. While users are invited and encouraged to download the app, it’s possible to join a Zoom meeting from your browser. Over the last couple of months, Zoom usage has soared as people stuck at home seek ways to connect, whether for work, socializing or entertainment. Zoom has experienced some serious security problems in the last few months. Because it’s so easy to join discussions, trolls often invade meetings to harass users. This is so common that there’s even a term for it: “Zoombombing.” Hackers have stolen users’ identities. There are also concerns about the company’s privacy policies.

Facebook Messenger Rooms are similar to Zoom in that anyone can start a video chat and invite others. Facebook gives users a certain amount of control over video chats. If you start a meeting you can decide who is able to see it. In addition to being able to lock the room, you can remove participants. You can also report disruptive users for violating Facebook’s terms of service. Zoom meetings actually have similar controls as rooms can be locked and users removed. Facebook Rooms are potentially vulnerable to the same type of problems as Zoom has experienced. It remains to be seen whether Facebook Rooms are more secure than Zoom’s. There are, however, some key differences between the two.

  • Zoom offers free meetings but also offers a premium version that allows up to 500 participants. At this point, Facebook Rooms are completely free.
  • Facebook Rooms only support up to 50 users. Zoom’s free version allows up to 100 participants. This itself can make it more likely that trolls or hackers will join a meeting.
  • Zoom limits meetings for free users to 40 minutes while Facebook Rooms have no time limits.

Tips for Using Facebook Rooms to Connect With Your Audience
If you’re a brand or business looking to engage with your audience, it’s often helpful to become an early adapter to new features such as Facebook Messenger Rooms. The following are some guidelines to use Rooms to connect with your friends, employees, leads and customers.

  • Provide customer service. If you connect with customers on Facebook, a Room is a convenient place to provide customer service and answer questions. You might open a room on regular times every week so customers know when they can find you.
  • Generate and nurture leads. You can use Rooms as an informal introduction to your product or service.
  • Bring your Facebook Group back to life. While Groups are a popular feature, it can be hard to keep members active. Many Facebook users belong to hundreds of groups and they don’t always see the latest activity on any particular group. If you want to breathe new life into your Group, you can open a Room and invite Group members.
  • Connect Rooms to Events. If you spontaneously open a Room, only people who are online at that time can attend. By inviting people ahead of time to an Event, you can increase interest. The video chat in a Room can be your whole event or it can be used to enhance a larger event. For example, if you’re holding a live event, people who can’t attend in person can still participate by joining your Room.
  • Connect with contacts on Instagram and WhatsApp. Connect Rooms to Events. Facebook has plans to make Rooms even more widely available in the future by integrating the feature with Instagram and WhatsApp. Users will also be able to add filters and backgrounds, as they now can on Facebook and Instagram Stories.

While the Rooms feature is fundamentally similar to Zoom and other online chat platforms, the very fact that its run by Facebook gives it certain unique features. While one touted benefit is that anyone, even non-Facebook members can join Rooms, the fact is a high percentage of people do use Facebook. When Rooms are fully integrated with Instagram and WhatsApp, the potential to easily reach huge numbers of people grows even more.