Nine Notable Takeaways From Facebook’s 2019 F8 Conference

This year marked Facebook’s 10th annual F8 developer conference and Mark Zuckerberg used the event to unveil a fundamental shift in Facebook’s mission. He said, “The Future is Private,” and went on to reinforce that they are focused on building a “privacy-focused” social platform. Their goal is to give people spaces where they can feel connected to the people and communities that matter the most and feel comfortable expressing themselves freely. While he acknowledged Facebook doesn’t currently have the strongest reputation on privacy right now, he noted they are fully committed to this mission. Old problems are likely to be unearthed over the coming months and years, but that should not detract from the fact that Facebook is now dedicated to changing how they run as a company in order to build this. Facebook’s new focus is on ensuring they provide a secure platform for people to connect with friends, family, people who share their interests, creators, and businesses alike.

The big question is why Facebook is making this monumental shift. For starters, one can reasonably assume this is somewhat in response to the headlines and scrutiny over the past year. But mainly, Facebook sits on an unimaginable amount of data and insights that drive their business decisions. The rise of private messaging and reduction in public sharing are just some of the inputs driving the rise of inflated costs within newsfeed, which in turn is catapulting these changes. From a business perspective, it makes sense the company is doubling down on the facets of the platform experiencing the strongest usage rates and growth. It is also worth noting Facebook does have a genuine interest in the well-being of its users, and research shows well-being is positively affected by meaningful interactions with close connections, not the pressurized environments created by follower and like counters.

As part of this new strategy, Zuckerberg established a firm delineation between what he dubbed “Digital Town Squares” and “Digital Living Rooms.” Town Squares are public places, like Facebook and Instagram feeds, that allow ideas and movements to spread more quickly than ever before. The Digital Living Rooms are places for smaller communities and private interactions on Messenger, WhatsApp, and Stories.  It is these channels that give people the freedom to be themselves and make it easier for people to feel a sense of belonging.

Facebook defined six new pillars to guide their new-founded privacy vision: Private Interactions, Encryption, Reduced Permeance, Safety, Interoperability, and Secure Data Storage, and they are building out a deep, technical infrastructure to support that vision.

The F8 conference delivered some significant shifts for Facebook, which in turn mean new opportunities for brands and takeaways for advertisers. Below are the top nine highlights:

1. Messenger

Private messaging is at the foundation of Zuckerberg’s vision for Facebook and the Digital Living Room. Facebook is going to great lengths to ensure Facebook Messenger adheres to the company’s new vision – even so far as rewriting the app from scratch to deliver the best private messaging experience. Asha Sharma, Facebook’s Messenger product lead, proclaimed the mission of Messenger is to “enable users to communicate with people they care about on a fast, interoperable, private network.”

“End-to-end encryption” and “interoperability” are key components of the Messenger updates. With the new version of the app, all messages will be private and secure by default, just like WhatsApp. Users will also be able to communicate with friends and family accessing any of Facebook’s platforms, such that someone on Facebook Messenger could talk to anyone on WhatsApp, Instagram or Messenger.

In an effort to drive even more cohesion and connections across platforms, users will be able to share their Stories to Messenger and view the Stories of their friends directly within the Messenger app.

Facebook also announced Messenger will soon be available as a Desktop App, allowing for video chat and messenger functionality on Mac and Windows operating systems. The new design will also feature two new features dedicated to strengthening this notion of a Digital Living Room. Within the Friends tab, users will be able to see what their friends and family are sharing across apps, and will be able to watch videos together directly inside of Messenger. Facebook touts the app will be the fastest messenger service available. Codenamed Project Lightspeed, the new version will require less battery and less than 30 MB of storage. The goal here is to ensure Messenger is available to everyone, everywhere, despite phone type or connectivity strength. The update will roll out globally later this year.

Facebook isn’t just thinking about how users interact on Messenger, but businesses as well. Every month there are 10 billion messages between businesses and peoples globally, and Messenger is quickly becoming the preferred method of communication. Seventy-five percent of people say they prefer to message a brand online, and brands that use messenger have higher Net Promoter Scores. Facebook is leaning in hard and working to optimize how businesses large and small can use Messenger to scale their operations.

Facebook announced two new solutions for businesses using Messenger: Lead Generation Templates and Offline Appointment Bookings. These updates are meant to streamline Lead Generation and bridge the gap between online and offline conversion.

What this means for advertisers: Brands not currently utilizing Messenger should consider the channel to communicate with users throughout all phases of the purchase lifecycle. The new version of the app will undoubtedly increase MAUs and thus more opportunities to reach users with ads. However, as advertisers look more towards Messenger as a channel for reaching their target audiences, it is important to consider the risk of becoming intrusive versus additive with promoted content. Advertisers should keep this in mind when forming their messaging strategy.

OMG advertisers have the opportunity to test some of these new Messenger advertiser solutions, including Lead Generation Chat Automation.

2. WhatsApp

Over 1.5 billion people use WhatsApp to stay connected and the number of active users for WhatsApp has doubled over the last three years. WhatsApp is at the helm of Facebook’s renewed focus on privacy and they are aiming to ensure WhatsApp remains simple to use, reliable even with low-bandwidth or slow connections, and, as always, private with its end-to-end encryption.

Ami Vora, WhatsApp’s VP of Product, shared some key updates for the platform. Status, WhatsApp’s version of Stories, will continue to be at the heart of the platform and they are ensuring that people and businesses can communicate in a secure space to establish meaningful connections. In addition to chatting with people, WhatsApp is doubling down on features for brands by testing Business Catalogs, so that brands can showcase their products in a more discoverable way.

The last update is around new functionality for sending money between users with Payments. Zuckerberg’s goal is to make it “as easy to send money to someone as it is to send a photo.” The hope is to provide people with more economic power, reduce the reliance on cash, and ensure that the billion plus people who use the app can make payments in a seamless and secure manner without the need for 3rd party apps taking up space on their devices.

What this means for advertisers: While Business Catalogs is still in the testing-phase and available to small businesses only, it marks a step toward possible monetization of the platform. By setting up this infrastructure, WhatsApp is setting itself up for the potential to have dynamic product ads in the future. Payments is also focused on people now, but in the future, it may allow businesses to deliver seamless shopping experiences. We recommend all eligible businesses get started on the WhatsApp Business app and begin establishing a presence on the platform.

3. Facebook

“Groups are at the heart of the experience just as much as friends and family are,” Mark Zuckerberg said. One manifestation of Facebook’s focus on connecting people in the Digital Living Room is putting Facebook Groups at the forefront of their app redesign. Today, more than 400M people are part of meaningful Facebook Groups (connect with members online and offline). Facebook believes there is a community for everything and is committed to connecting people with shared interests.

The app redesign—codenamed FB5—will make Group interaction the focal point of the interface. For those who haven’t updated their app yet, the app we all know and love won’t even be blue! Within the new version of the app, interacting with your groups and finding new groups to join will be easier than ever, with Group recommendations being released in the Gaming and Facebook Watch tabs. Fidji Simo, head of the Facebook App, shared multiple updates for cornerstone groups:

  • Health Support communities: members will be able to ask admins to post health questions anonymously
  • Professional communities: members will be able to apply for jobs and contact employers
  • Local communities: members will be able to access an Events tab for things happening in their neighborhoods
  • Gaming communities: members will be able to chat and connect with other gamers

Of course, Facebook is making significant efforts to control the spread of harmful information in groups and remove hate groups as quickly as possible.

Initially announced at last year’s F8, Facebook Dating is expanding globally and coming to U.S. users by the end of this year. With Facebook Dating, users can opt-in to be matched with other users with similar interests. But it doesn’t stop there. Facebook is dabbling even further into the dating app realm with “Secret Crush.” Users will be able to create a private list of friends they are romantically interested in. If a friend or acquaintance also puts you on the list, it’s a match! If instead, you’re looking for more platonic relationships, Facebook also introduced Meet New Friends, an opt-in tool that will help people make new friends based on shared communities like school or city.

What was notably missing from the announcements was mention of Facebook Watch. Unlike last year’s conference, Facebook Watch was not a highlighted topic of discussion this time around. With that said, Facebook is still all in on the offering and is continuing to push out new programming, including “Stephen vs. The Game,” which premiered on May 2nd.

What this means for advertisers: The app redesign, which will favor small groups over the “public town square” that is the newsfeed, will likely make for fewer available impressions for advertisers. The actual effects on newsfeed ad delivery is yet to be determined. Brand pages are invited to join groups and participate in their brand voice. With the Facebook app redesign shifting focus away from Newsfeed and onto sharing Stories, advertisers will have more opportunities to reach their target audience across Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp with full-screen Story ads. Advertisers who are not already promoting Story ads should consider doing so, given increased accessibility for these ads. There are no plans for monetization for Facebook Dating or Meet New Friends.

4. Instagram

Head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, announced a series of design updates to the app to make it feel like a “less pressurized” environment, encouraging users to focus more on the content and less on engagement metrics like follower and like counts. They are doing so by removing the like counter on posts and reducing the prominence of follower counts on profiles.

Every day 1 billion Stories are shared across the Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp and Mosseri introduced a couple of updates for Stories specifically. Donation Stickers are launching in the U.S., so people can raise money for non-profit organizations. Only non-profit organizations that have signed up to accept donations and meet a series of other requirements will be eligible to receive funds using the Donation Sticker. Instagram will not take a share of the money raised, so 100% of the funds will go directly to the non-profit.

In the new camera-design Instagram is rolling out called Create Mode, people will be able to create Stories without first uploading a photo or video. Instead, people can begin with text, stickers, countdowns, polls, quizzes, etc. This change is aimed at giving people more ways to share and express themselves freely on the platform.

What this means for advertisers: We recommend that advertisers begin working with their creative agencies to test designing content for Stories with the new Create Mode as soon as it becomes available. With fewer restrictions around how Stories can be created, brands will have ample opportunities to rethink their creative strategies for this placement. Non-Profit organizations should work to meet the eligibility requirements for receiving funds via Donation Stickers.

5. Commerce

In March 2019, Facebook introduced initial testing for Checkout for Instagram. Checkout minimizes the obstacles between the moment of discovery and the point of sale to deliver a frictionless shopping experience on Instagram, by allowing users to checkout within the app. They initially launched with 25 brands and are continuing to roll it out to new businesses. For brands using the Checkout functionality, Instagram is taking it one step further: the ability to partner with creators and have them tag Checkout enabled products in their posts. Instagram users will be able to shop looks from 55 creators, including a mix of influencers and publishers. When a user taps on a creator’s shopping post, they will be able to find more information on the product or purchase and checkout directly on Instagram. There are plans to expand the program over the next year.

To further enable users to find products through the app, the launch of a new Shopping channel within Explore was announced at F8. Since 83% of users noted that they use Instagram to discover new products or services, this new channel is likely to be well received by their 1 billion monthly active users.

Another move deeper into the world of commerce is the launch of Shipping on Facebook’s Marketplace for people selling products from their profiles. While on-platform checkout capabilities already existed for businesses selling to consumers, this expansion marks a reinforcement of Facebook’s goal to drive more secure eCommerce activity via its family of apps and services.

Spark AR (which we’ll take a deep-dive into below) is also being positioned as a way to unlock value for businesses and shoppers. Facebook is developing new tech to support the commerce related use cases for augmented reality, such as virtual try-on. Two of the new capabilities that are coming soon are lighting simulations to allow users to see what products look like in daytime vs. nighttime and photo-realistic makeup shaders to ensure a more uniform experience for people of all skin-tones. They are also pushing towards a direct “Shop now” capability for AR effects, to deliver a frictionless experience from virtual experiences to real shopping carts and finally checkout.

What this means for advertisers: Although Checkout is still in beta, if any brands are interested in this functionality, they should reach out to their OMG teams and Facebook reps for more information and timing around further expansions of the program. For brands who already have Checkout on Instagram, shopping with creators will provide a fresh way to reach people with their products when they are in a discovery mode and potentially increase sales.  There are no paid advertising opportunities for Spark AR yet, but advertisers should consider how the new technology may be applicable and begin testing organically.

6. Portal

Facebook announced new innovations focused around how their in-home video chat system, Portal, can continue to help people connect in meaningful (and private) ways. The first step is expanding beyond Messenger calling by bringing WhatsApp to Portal, and end-to-end encryption along with it. By connecting Portal to Messenger and WhatsApp, they made it possible for users to connect with friends, even if they don’t have Portal and send private video messages. Facebook Live is also being connected to Portal, so people can share special moments in real-time. Portal already has several content partners including Spotify, Pandora, CNN and ABC News. They are expanding into gaming with Words with Friends and Draw Something, to bring “more fun to calls.” Through Portal’s collaboration with Amazon, Alexa is built in to Portal and additional skills are being added, such as Flash Briefings, smart home control capabilities and the Amazon Prime Video App will be added later in the year. People will also be able to use voice commands to ask their Portal for updates on events, birthdays, etc.

Another new addition to portal is Story Time. This is a new feature where the caller can become a storybook character using music, animation, and augmented reality effects.

John McCarthy, the Head of Product Management for Portal Experiences, also noted that they are in the midst of building a Portal Mobile App, so people can upload and share photos privately with their loved ones. Finally, they will be expanding Portal from the U.S. to Canada and then to Europe in the fall.

What this means for advertisers: At this time, there are no immediate implications or monetization opportunities for advertisers. Facebook is developing the infrastructure that will allow publishers and developers to turn capabilities they’ve already built for other platforms into shared social experiences for Portal in the future. For any OMG clients that have Alexa skills built out, we recommend keeping an eye out for future opportunities to expand those skills to Portal.

7. Oculus

Clearly doubling down on hardware innovation, Facebook announced two new devices to proceed Oculus Go that will take the virtual reality (VR) experience to the next level: Oculus Rift S and Oculus Quest. The Rift S is the most powerful headset on the market and the Quest is the first all-in-one gaming system (no cables, no PC required). Both devices are now available for pre-order and will ship on May 21st.

“Through VR, you feel an intimate sense of presence and place; [it is] the most visceral way to experience the Digital Town Square and Digital Living Room,” said Sean Liu, Director of Product Management for Oculus. Like Facebook’s other efforts to connect users over shared experiences, Oculus is working to enable users to share their VR experiences with their friends and family. Consumers will now be able to cast their VR experiences to phones and TVs so friends can watch.

We can expect to see more and more brands and businesses lean into VR to bring their offering to life. Oculus for Business, launching this fall, will offer scale, enterprise UX, and security and support for businesses.

What this means for advertisers: As VR continues to penetrate mainstream users, there will be more opportunities for advertisers to reach their target audiences on more devices. With Oculus for Business rolling out, brands should start to think about if advertising in the VR space makes sense for them.

8. Spark AR

To date, augmented reality (AR) creators and brands have used Spark AR to make experiences more compelling and memorable. Whether for everyday utility or pure entertainment purposes, AR effects have successfully driven user engagement in several sectors, including education, museums and retail.

Since last year’s F8, more than one billion people have used Spark AR effects across Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and Portal. Facebook announced the new Spark AR Studio will support creators on both Windows and Mac, and the Spark AR developer ecosystem will have access to Instagram in a closed beta beginning this summer.

What this means for advertisers: While there are currently no paid advertising opportunities using Spark AR technology, brands are invited to develop AR effects for organic purposes.

9. Privacy, Safety, & Security

Facebook’s Chief Technology Officer, Mike Schroepfer, proclaimed Responsible Innovation is Facebook’s mission, and the company is focused on reducing harmful content, eliminating misinformation and protecting people’s well-being and safety. The Facebook team explained some of the ways they are doing this:

  • Consulting outside parties: Facebook wants to get this right, and knows they can’t do it alone. Facebook is working with external organizations and subject matter experts, like the Center on Media and Child Health, to build tools to combat challenges like harmful content and the spread of misinformation
  • Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence: Facebook is using these technologies to analyze language, photos and videos to identify and remove bad content. These recognition systems continue to improve and have surpassed industry benchmarks for effectiveness
  • “About this Website” button: Facebook added a button to articles shared in newsfeed to combat the spread of misinformation. If a user clicks on this button, they can see other sources sharing the news, what parts of the country the news is being shared, and more information about the user that shared it

Of course, bad actors will work to find loopholes and cause harm no matter what precautions Facebook puts in place. Schroepfer acknowledged the constant room for improvement when he said, “We’re a long way from perfect […] this is intensely an adversarial game.”

What this means for advertisers: While it’s easy to react to the headlines, advertisers should maintain business as usual when it comes to their Facebook advertising strategy. Issues around social platforms and user safety and security is a larger industry problem. In the meantime, brands and media teams should acknowledge the efforts Facebook is making to combat such challenges and adhere to policies meant to protect users.


Final Thoughts

At this year’s F8 developer conference, Mark Zuckerberg and team revealed a new era for Facebook with a major shift towards privacy. Given the ongoing issues Facebook and other platforms across the industry have faced around user privacy and data security, the new mission seems appropriate, as they will have to work hard to overcome the lost trust from both users and advertisers. From Facebook’s hyper-focus on Groups to their expansion of end-to-end encrypted messaging, many of the announcements signal a renewed focus on people’s well-being and deepening meaningful connections both on and off platform. We expect Facebook to continue to diversify their revenue streams beyond ads to compensate for lost advertising dollars through new capabilities like Payments and Checkout and via ongoing development of hardware like Portal and Oculus. It is likely that in time the rest of the industry will follow suit.

“This industry is so important to us, because it not only reflects our culture, it shapes it.”
– Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO