Facebook F8: From chatbots to VR cameras – 5 things marketers need to know so far

Facebook's annual F8 developer conference kicked off in San Francisco yesterday (12 April). The two day event traditionally sees the social giant's founder Mark Zuckerberg take to the stage to reveal a host of new features, and last night he didn't disappoint.

The chief executive's keynote outlined Facebook's 10-year road map, putting the idea of a "global community" front and centre: "We're going to walk through our road map for the next 10 years," he said. "Messaging and private communication will unlock platforms for all kinds of connectivity".

From chatbots to an all new 360-degree camera, to making Messenger more marketer-friendly, Facebook used F8 to unveil several new tools for users and advertisers alike – scroll down to see The Drum's top five takeaways from day one below.

Chat bots are coming to messenger

Facebook has been experimenting with bots over the past few months, working with brands like KLM Airlines to let users perform functions that would normally be done with the help of a customer service assistant via a browser or a phone call, ie checking itineraries and boarding passes.

Yesterday, it revealed that that it will now allow businesses to deliver automated customer support, e-commerce guidance and content through chatbots to its 900 million strong user base – helping it gain ground on chat competitors like Kik and Telegram.

The army of branded bots will be able to provide anything from automated subscription content to weather updates or delivery tracking notifications.

Advertisers and publishers already signed up include e-commerce platform Spring, which is offering a personal shopping assistant bot and CNN, which will use the service to deliver breaking news and match readers with stories specially curated for them.

Businesses will be charged to send messages to people who’ve already voluntarily started a conversation with them. Dubbed, Sponsored Messages, the tool is currently in testing, and is being heavily moderated to avoid users falling victim to spam.

Speaking to The Drum Hannah Giles, head of marketing at Zensend, a mobile messaging platform used by brands like Nectar and Daily Mail Group, pointed out that while this brand-Messenger link could user in "a new era of communication" and breathe life into what she describes as "the nascent conversational commerce space," that it won't be without its challenges.

"The main challenge for Facebook will be around building and protecting consumer trust. Facebook has done a great job of doing this within its social network, but it will need to ensure that users of its messaging products are also given total control over how and when any brand engagement takes place," she added.

Facebook is getting serious about Live

Facebook's real-time video service Live was given a makeover last week, securing its own dedicated tab on the social network's mobile app and benefiting from some new features designed to give users a more personalised experience.

Yesterday it announced that it was opening an API for the livestreaming service, meaning third-party developers can now build live Facebook streams into their apps, something that publishers and tech companies could take advantage of.

Since Facebook launched Live last August, people have created more than 670,000 live streams which have clocked up over 12.6bn views, so it's no wonder the social network is keen to capitalise on its popularity.

It's taking on Samsung with it's own 360-degree camera

Tapping into the buzz around another trend, Facebook launched its Surround 360 camera system.

Joining the likes of Google and Samsung, the tool is set to be accompanied by software which stitches together the multiple cameras to create virtual reality content.

Facebook is open sourcing both the hardware and software for the product, which is aimed at professional filmmakers. The move follows the hefty investments already made by the company in the virtual reality space following its $2bn acquisition of headset-maker Oculus Rift.

Instant Articles is now open to all publishers

In a move that was teased before the conference, Facebook announced that come April 12, its Instant Articles format – which allows a publisher to post articles directly to the social media platform and results in faster loading times on mobile – will become available to all publishers.

No longer exclusively just for big names like BuzzFeed and the New York Times, the platform will now be open to smaller media owners to help them get past the “slow loading times on the mobile web," giving Facebook the chance to pull in some extra ad revenue.

​Messenger and WhatsApp are taking over

Messenger was unsurprisingly Facebook's fastest-growing platform in 2015. Since last year its picked up some 200 million users to reach 900 million each month outpacing Facebook's other apps like WhatsApp and Instagram.

Zuckerberg revealed that activity on Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp combined now sits at three-times the global volume of SMS messages, generating 60bn messages a day against SMS' 20bn.

As users increasingly lean towards messaging services, this space will be one to watch for Facebook as it tries to stirke the balance between helping brands harness these platforms and retaining its user base.

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