Customers are on Facebook -- and now more businesses can better support them. The social network has released several new features intended to allow administrators to more easily and efficiently communicate with past, current and future buyers, Facebook announced Tuesday. Also, the social network said it now boasts 50 million active pages, up from 40 million in September.

All pages run by businesses can now control whether the average response time to customer queries reads “within minutes” to “hours” to “a day." Pages can set "away" messages for when they are offline and have instant and saved replies. Businesses will see a redesigned inbox for public and private messages, where they can create profiles for customers that will pull from any publicly available information about the Facebook users (such as current city and interests). Finally, there’s a new tool for tracking and responding to comments.

Each of these updates is designed to help businesses small and large better manage and operate their online presences, purely through Facebook. Pages are the elements of the social network separate from user profiles or Facebook groups and are run by celebrities, media outlets, government officials and businesses; Facebook has clearly put an investment in the latter group. Indeed, those businesses are current and potential Facebook advertisers. 

Forget a website, forget Twitter, forget Yelp, forget Amazon, Facebook appears to be urging. The network has retooled pages to offer an online destination, a customer service center, reviews and -- currently in beta testing for a few service providers -- an e-commerce store.

A Facebook page “becomes your online presence. It’s an easier way to get out your branding and your messages,” Michael Sharon, Facebook's product manager for ads and pages, told International Business Times. “Second is that they’re using pages to communicate with people. It becomes a testimonial.”

Customer Response

Pages have been integral for Facebook, having first launched them in 2007 as "fan pages." Now they are not just for musicians or TV shows but also local, national and global retailers. For example, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines boasts nearly 10 million "likes" on its Facebook page. “While we keep you updated, we are at your service 24/7 in 13 languages,” KLM's page reads.

The tools released Tuesday are designed to help businesses like KLM better manage their customers. Facebook users leave 2.5 billion comments on pages each month.

KLM tries to respond to nearly every comment on its Facebook page. Tuesday’s updates will help customer service operators more easily see which comments they have already responded to, and also understand who sent the inquiry. For instance, KLM will now be able to see if a user has previously messaged KLM, if the person likes the Facebook page, and also could attribute tags to the conversation.

facebook shopping Facebook has added a "Shopping" tab to the mobile app. Photo: Facebook

That’s crucial for businesses that have invested heavily in customer management via social media. Southwest Airlines has a team of 29 that respond to 80,000 posts each month from Facebook and Twitter, according to the New York Times.

It's not just airline-size companies; Facebook is catering to all manner of businesses. “I'm deeply passionate about local businesses,” Sharon, who used to run Facebook Places, told IBT. “If we’re starting to prioritize messaging and businesses, we wanted to make sure they have the right kind of controls … especially small businesses, where they don’t have the ability to man the business at all hours.”

Starting Shop

For Facebook, pages are not just a way to attract and retain users. The company makes the vast majority of its revenue from advertisements, pulling in $4.5 billion in the past quarter, where mobile accounted for 78 percent. Sharon called pages the “foundation of ads on the ecosystem.”

“The way News Feed is set up is that everything is a story that is voiced by an actor. In general you have two kinds of actors: You have profiles, and you have pages. If you want an ad, then you have to have one,” Sharon said.

Facebook has prioritized recruiting new businesses. The social network signed on over 1 million every month in 2014. Facebook announced 40 million active pages in April and now has 50 million. Active means that an administrator uses the page at least once a month.

The Facebook team is making pages function and appear like other parts of the social network. For example, the new comment moderation tool for pages looks similar to a recent update to the inbox for all Facebook users. “Instead of having different tools with different layouts, we will standardize,” Sharon said.

The redesigned inbox for pages is currently available only on desktop, and the company plans to expand it to the apps. Indeed, Facebook has been prioritizing mobile for both businesses and customers. In October, Facebook improved the retail experience by adding a shopping tab to the mobile app.

The tools will become available to a limited number of pages Tuesday and will be available to all in the coming months.