- Facebook added new features to Messenger, its chat app with more than 1.3 billion users worldwide, to turn the platform into a retail hub. The new features include augmented reality (AR) experiences, automatic language translation and artificial intelligence (AI) tools to help small businesses communicate with customers, according to a blog post by Messenger's VP of Messaging Products David Marcus.
- Asus, Kia, Nike and Sephora are among the brands that will launch AR effects for Messenger during closed beta testing. Asus, Nike and Kia features let users get closers looks at their respective new products, while Sephora is bringing virtual makeup try-ons to the platform. Businesses that are interested in adding these effects can join a waitlist and be notified when the feature becomes broadly available.
- The news comes as Instagram, also owned by Facebook, is letting brands and public figures build their own AR filters, TechCrunch reported. Instagram has had similar filters since last year, but this is the first time it's allowing third-parties to create unique filters that users can try if they follow an influencer or brand that offers the effects.
Facebook is clearly doubling down on AR across its family of platforms, including offering brands new opportunities to leverage the technology to engage consumers who are might not be as interested in more traditional ads. There have been some key wins for brands using the technology, like Jordan Brand's AR filter on Snapchat that was tied to an exlusive product pre-release.
Facebook is ramping up its AR offerings as companies like Apple, Google and Snapchat are also accelerating efforts to provide a broader range of software to help developers and designers create immersive or computer-generated experiences. Facebook's advantage could be its large user base although, as the Jordan Brand experience demonstrated, some of the early wins in AR have come from personalized experiences designed for a brand's best customers. How and if AR will work for mass marketing initiatives is still being explored. CEO Mark Zuckerberg last year showed off new features for Facebook Camera, including a platform for third-party developers to make AR games and apps for the social network.
The updated Messenger platform demonstrates that Facebook wants its messaging service to become a key part of the way consumers interact with businesses, through AR, live customer service reps and automated services like chatbots. Marcus said the platform has seen the number of active bots triple to 300,000 this year from a year ago, and he forecasts that more businesses will use Messenger as a key part of customer support in the years to come.
Facebook has faced intense scrutiny in the past couple of months over its mishandling of personal information about millions of people, but the company is still forging ahead with new offerings to help even the smallest businesses adopt its Messenger platform as a communication and customer service tool.
For a look at all of the major news for brands coming out of F8, check out our sister publication Marketing Dive's analysis.