Brands and their partners must start thinking about “a future that extends beyond what fits in the palm of your hand”, Nicola Mendelsohn, vice-president of Facebook’s global business group, said at the company’s session at the IAB UK Digital Upfronts today.
Mendelsohn said: “History has taught us, since the birth of modern computing back in the 50s, that roughly every 15 years or so, a new computing platform appears.
“The last one was the launch of the iPhone in 2007, which means that there will be a new scale computing platform appearing in the next few years – that's just inevitable.”
This summer, Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said he wants to turn Facebook into a “metaverse company”. Mendelsohn said that developments such as Oculus VR headsets, neural wristbands and the recently revealed Ray-Ban Stories smart glasses were central to this concept.
“To give you a sense of the scale of our commitment, we now have around 10,000 people working on virtual reality,” she said.
The other two areas she focused on in her speech – creators and commerce – were, Mendesohn said, “part of a much larger goal and that's to help build the metaverse – a virtual environment where you can be present with people in digital spaces”.
This is “not something that Facebook's going to be building alone”, she said. Many other platforms, including Epic Games’ Fortnite, Roblox and the blockchain-based Decentraland, are competing for consumers’ time and attention in the virtual space.
“And it's not something that we'll build overnight either but I think it is something that brands should be trying to get their heads around," she added. "Because there is going to be a role for you to play here, too. And the best way for you to get your head around the metaverse is to try out and experiment with the technology that's going to form an important part of it.”
Before moving on to the metaverse, Mendelsohn discussed the growing importance of creators for brands, and the opportunity to use social and virtual platforms for commerce.
She referred to an estimate from venture capital firm Signal Fire that 50 million people worldwide consider themselves to be a creator, and pointed to data showing that VCs had invested $2bn into creator-focused start-ups in the year to July, in the US alone.
Mendelsohn said: “Over the last decade, creators like these have been able to build communities and deep personal relationships with their followers, as well as interesting relationships with brands.
“In lockdown, it was incredibly hard to produce traditional ads while we were all isolating. Creators were able to fill this gap really quickly with their own content to help brands get their messages out.
"The ads worked not because of the reach the creators have, but because of the deep connection that they have with their audiences.”
The other part of the equation was for brands to take this and use it to drive sales, Meldelsohn said. “How many of you have bought something over the last 18 months because a creator showed you something you like?
“One in five of us is using social media as a source of shopping inspiration – take Europe out of the equation, and that number is closer to two in five.”
In China, she said, one in three internet users has used live shopping – through livestreams such as on Facebook Live.
Mendelsohn gave the example of fitness tech brand Peloton, which marked US Black History Month in February with a capsule collection created with four black designers including Monica Ahanonu.
“Peloton invited her onto Instagram to talk about her work with a member of Peloton staff; that video is shoppable. So while you're listening to Monica, you can just click, choose your items, and then they're all yours.”
With Facebook on the end of severe criticism in recent weeks over a series of revelations in The Wall Street Journal following documents leaked by whistleblower Frances Haugen, the company could be said to be facing something of an existential challenge.
Facebook has rejected Haugen's suggestion that it puts "profit before safety" and outlined several steps it is taking to address concerns raised on issues such as the impact of Instagram on teens' wellbeing.
Opening her talk, Mendelsohn – who was promoted this week – said: “I get asked a lot what the future of Facebook is and in particular what that means to advertisers, and there's quite a few different answers.
"And that's because in many ways Facebook can be seen as a reflection of humanity. And as humanity changes our platforms must adapt to meet those needs.”