Facebook Messenger’s new bot store puts us on the brink of a new augmented social reality in which people brands and things will intermingle quite happily.

At F8 today, Facebook announced a new Messenger bot store, representing “a major new channel for commerce, customer support, and possibly even media.”

I would argue that the implications are more far-reaching than that. The bot store will usher in a new era of social, in which brands will take on people-like identities and inhabit the same spaces in our lives as friends do. It marks the beginning of an augmented social reality.

This augmented social reality will feel natural and useful to consumers, and it will be exciting and lucrative for brands. Success will depend on brands knowing their value proposition, and acting this out with both consistency and restraint. It will hinge entirely on brands respecting the first rule of friendship – trust.

 Natural and useful

Brands will develop human-like digital identities and establish practical and emotional relationships with consumers. They will carry out these relationships in the very channels where consumers today are spending most of their time, and will engage with people through the distinctly human medium of conversation.

In order to establish an identity in people’s minds, brands will need to be clear on their area of specialty. They will need to be subject matter experts, with a predetermined role in people’s lives. In the example below from Futures of Text you can see how a service like Foursquare can be drawn into a conversation in a natural way, chiming in, when called up, with some useful expert information. In this instance, Foursquare, like a friend, ‘knows’ you, including your past history and tastes. This context informs a brief but high relevant and actionable communication. It’s hard to think of a higher brand value proposition.

Exciting and lucrative

This augmented social reality is poised to become the most exciting and lucrative opportunity for brands yet. We’ve started to see evidence of this through an early pilot for Sony Pictures’ Goosebumps Movie launch back in October.

Slappy, the main character, got people palpably excited about the movie, sold tickets and grew engagement with the overall Goosebumps franchise, by linking to merchandise.

Personal and scalable

This augmented social reality enables brands to engage in one-to-one relationships with consumers, at infinite scale. In our beta, Slappy maintained 262 individual conversations concurrently, without breaking a sweat. Fans loved their conversations with Slappy so much that a third of them came back for more. Some got so attached that in one case a fan asked Slappy to wish them good luck for their chemotherapy appointment.

An augmented social reality fulfills the direct interaction that fans expect to have with their idols and the brands they love. It replaces the behavior of 30 years ago, when “if you liked someone, you hung the poster form the magazine on your bedroom wall.” (Eyal Pfeifel, co-founder of Imperson).

(Facebook user missing his friend, Slappy, once the Goosebumps campaign was switched off).

Trust is paramount

Earning a place in people’s address books is one thing. Building an enduring relationship that earns their keep, is another. In a way, this is easier for brands than people, as brands have the capacity to become the best version of a best friend, always available, and never disappointing as mortal friends are prone to do.

This will however require close attention from the architects of these brand personalities. Brands will need to be transparent about their motives and maintain their relationships through virtue of the value they provide, and not by feeding off people’s insecurities and generally abusing their position. Failure to do so will result in the fate of Microsoft’s Tay, which serves as an early cautionary tale of what can go wrong.

In the new augmented social reality, the essence is trust and anticipation of consumers’ desires. Enduring success will rely on a transparent relationship, and a great deal of attention to the value that the brand is providing. If done right, the commercial prospects for brands in this augmented social reality look quite fantastic.