Google, Apple, and Amazon tend to attract the most attention in terms of technological innovations. Apple’s strides in personal assistant technology, Google’s self-updating search algorithm, and Amazon’s drone delivery plans all made major headlines this year, but there’s another tech company—one almost everyone uses—that’s pushing the limits of technology and redefining consumer expectations just as much: Facebook.
A decade ago, you wouldn’t have expected a social media site to be a leader in digital innovation, but Facebook remains one of the most dynamic tech companies around today—and its strides are affecting businesses and marketers everywhere. If you’re an entrepreneur, a marketer, or even just a social media junkie, get ready for these seven changes Facebook is bringing to the world:
1. Virtual Reality. It’s no secret that Facebook acquired Oculus, the leading competitor in the recent resurgence of virtual reality (VR) technology, earlier this year. Oculus Rift is one of the hottest anticipated gadgets of 2016, and with Facebook backing the device (and company), you can bet the social platform will do everything it can to push VR on consumers. That means including more VR-enabled content and interactions on the Facebook platform, such as 360 panoramas, and rewarding users and businesses who contribute such content for the masses. Will VR technology stick around for good this time? If Oculus delivers, it probably will, and Facebook is counting on it.
2. Instant Articles. Facebook actually released Instant Articles earlier this year, but only to a limited selection of publishers. Designed to keep users in the app for as long as possible and maximize exposure for publishers who might otherwise lose traffic to social media tire kickers, Instant Articles was theoretically a mutually beneficial feature that served as a win for everyone; readers get faster content, publishers get more readers, and Facebook gets more users to stick around. The only problem is, many publishers felt Instant Articles wasn’t robust enough, and the advertising options didn’t make up for the lack of inbound traffic. You can bet Facebook will be redesigning and modifying its Instant Articles model in 2016—possibly including an even wider circle of publishers.
3. Facebook M. With digital assistants like Siri and Cortana already hardened in the mainstream, Facebook is hoping to get a piece of the action with Facebook M, a Messenger-based digital assistant. There’s one major difference; while most digital assistants are formally and completely digital (machine learning algorithms), Facebook M is actually a digital/human hybrid—it uses an algorithm similar to those of Siri and Cortana (but with a blend of features unique to Facebook), but also relies on a team of human assistants operating in the background to handle more complex or ambiguous tasks. Whether it’s a massive success or colossal failure, Facebook is bringing variety to the digital assistant scene.
4. Advertising Changes. Facebook’s advertising platform hasn’t stopped changing since it first emerged more than a decade ago. The platform saw a number of updates in 2015, including a “call now” button, carousel-style ads, and mobile ad management. Following in Pinterest’s successful footsteps, it’s likely that Facebook will include more social/e-commerce hybrid functions for its businesses, and an even more robust ad management platform in 2016.
5. Organic Visibility. Organic visibility has dropped on Facebook consistently over the years. While Facebook’s official response to this objective decrease is to improve overall user experience by only showing the most relevant content, it’s not hard to read between the lines. Lower organic reach means more pressure for businesses to use paid advertising options, which means more revenue for Facebook. Count on seeing even greater decreases in organic visibility in 2016, and consider refining your Facebook marketing strategy.
6. Customer Service. Facebook is making a big push for its Messenger app, particularly for businesses. Already, businesses can harness the power and convenience of Facebook Messenger to reach certain members of their audiences or respond to inbound inquiries, but this functionality is somewhat limited for now. With Facebook’s emphasis remaining firm, it’s almost certain that more functions will roll out for Messenger as a customer service platform in 2016. For B2C businesses, this could be extremely valuable.
7. Greater Video Emphasis. It’s no secret that users are craving more and more video content. Apps like Periscope and Meerkat are surging in popularity, and mainstream apps like Facebook and Twitter have already included auto-playing videos in news feeds. Facebook also recently announced plans to release a live streaming video function, which will grant Periscope-like functionality to users and businesses. It’s clear that Facebook plans to prioritize video content heavily, which means it could see a major boost in organic visibility, and users and businesses alike will probably see more tools designed to make the video capture and upload process even easier.
Some of these changes might be hits, and others might be failures. Some of them are already here and some of them might be delayed another year. What’s important is the pace and degree to which Facebook is incorporating updates; the app is becoming far more than just a social media platform, and marketers who take note of this early and respond to those changes stand to benefit far more than the latecomers. Stay up-to-date on the latest developments, and keep your strategy ready to change at a moment’s notice.