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Facebook’s First Big Investment into the Metaverse, and What it Means for the Future of the Company



Facebook has taken its next steps into the expanding Metaverse concept, with the announcement of a new $50 million investment into research programs that will explore how to develop the digital Metaverse responsibly, and ensure that any related products “are built in a way that’s inclusive and empowering”.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg went all-in on the Metaverse just recently, in an interview in which he explained that he sees Facebook eventually becoming ‘a Metaverse company’.

This new investment is another step in that direction, while the recently announced promotion of Facebook’s AR/VR chief Andrew Bosworth to the company’s CTO role also points to its continued shift in this path.

As per Facebook:

“As we focus on helping to build the next computing platform, our work across augmented and virtual reality and consumer hardware will deepen that human connection regardless of physical distance and without being tied to devices.” 

So what is the Metaverse, exactly, and why does it matter to you and me?

Much like AI before it, ‘metaverse’ is already a hugely misused and misrepresented concept, sometimes deliberately so, in an attempt to cash in on knowledge gaps, other times because there’s no strict definition or parameters, as such, which means that many things could theoretically fit into the metaverse, or a metaverse, as it may be.

To clarify, the actual definition of ‘metaverse’ is:

A virtual-reality space in which users can interact with a computer-generated environment and other users.”

Virual reality, in this context, doesn’t actually relate to VR in isolation – a metaverse is any simulated environment, in which users can interact, generally through digital avatars, creating a new, responsive environment inside our normal reality.

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In this sense, there are many variations of a ‘metaverse’ already. Roblox is, in itself, a metaverse, as is Fortnite, or indeed, any online multiplayer game, providing a platform for user interaction in a simulated space.

But these are smaller elements – the bigger view, or The Metaverse (with a capital ‘M’) is a much more broad-reaching concept, where instead of these smaller, niche virtual communities, there would be a large-scale digital connection platform, which anyone could connect into, at anytime, and conduct a wide range of activities in this space.

So you could still, for example, include Roblox within the bigger Metaverse, but you would connect into that part of it via a larger platform, while you would also be able interact outside of these separate apps within a larger digital sandbox.

So, it’s like Ready Player One, but in real life, providing an escape for people, as well as an immersive entertainment playground, where anybody can be anything that they want.

Which is where digital avatars come in.

You’ve no doubt seen elements of the NFT movement, where people are buying up, for example, Bored Ape digital avatars for crazy prices.

Bored Ape images

While the animated characters in themselves may not, to outsiders, appear to be worth the millions that people are paying, the visuals act as a sort of digital status symbol, underlining a connection to online culture, while they’re also seen as an investment amid the growth of the burgeoning NFT market.

The next step will also see these characters translated into digital avatars, providing the same prestige and digital cred in the evolving Metaverse concept.

Bored Ape

So they essentially form a multi-use art piece, with a view to the expansion of the concept, and with digital ‘skins’ already selling millions in online games, it’s easy to imagine that these one-off art pieces will also prove popular as we move into the next stage.

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But then comes the more difficult concept – who hosts that next platform, and builds the actual Metaverse holding ground?

Which is where Facebook’s looking to step in. As noted, the company, with its vast resources, and experience in social connection, is looking to become ‘a Metaverse company’, which, in this context, could also be seen as ‘The Metaverse company’. The overarching view is that the Metaverse will be much like the internet, where there won’t be a central host or platform, as such, but an open framework, that anybody can then build on top of.

How exactly that comes about, though, is less clear, and while there are ideas around open-sourcing the code on the Blockchain, or formulating similar independent support, it still seems like it’s going to come down to a few large facilitators that will host the core elements of the Metaverse base, and will therefore maintain control over at least some of the key aspects.

Which is where Facebook’s looking to get in. Eyeing the next stage of digital connection, Facebook is trying to tie its various projects, including AR and VR development, back into the rising Metaverse concept. Facebook is arguably already leading the way on VR, the future of virtual connection, and if it can get in now and become the facilitator of more key parts of the Metaverse – the big one, which connects everything else – it can position itself as the key platform for the future, and all of the various interactions that may occur in the digital space.

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So while it may seem like a vague concept, the impetus is clear – and with VR headset sales rising, and elements life NFTs and other digital connections tools gaining momentum, Facebook is essentially reading the play, and heading to where the puck is going, with an eye to maintaining relevance.

Will that work? Definitely, the potential here is huge – and apps like Snapchat are also working to align with the next shift via the addition of digital clothing and other products that will only exist in the virtual space.

If you want to see where the next big trends are forming, it’s among the youth, and during the pandemic, with screen time being extended more and more as a counter to lockdown boredom, kids are definitely getting more accustomed to socializing with friends in digital form, and communicating their personal style via their on-screen characters.

In ten years’ time, when these youngsters are moving into the next stage, those habitual trends may well be embedded, and aligned with the concurrent rise of technology, you can see why Zuck and Co. may see this as the direction to head in.

As such, this is likely only the first, and minor investment that we’ll see from The Social Network, with a view to owning a chunk of the next connective process.

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Snapchat Publishes New Report into the Importance of Privacy Tools in Facilitating Online Sharing



Snapchat Publishes New Report into the Importance of Privacy Tools in Facilitating Online Sharing

Snapchat has published a new report which provides some deeper insight into the importance of online privacy, and the key concerns that users have in regards to the content that they share online.

The report, based on a survey of over 13,500 people in 11 markets, uncovers some valuable considerations for both platforms and marketers, and reinforces the logic behind some of the latest social app developments, in regards to increased user control, encryption, and more. It also sheds light on how such controls – or the lack of them – can influence people’s behavior online.

It’s an interesting overview – you can download Snap’s full, 28-page report here, but in this post, we’ll take a look at some of the key points.

First off, Snap notes that both Snapchatters and non-Snap users are concerned about online privacy, with 81% of respondents noting that online privacy is important. At the same time, only 65% indicated that they’re satisfied with their current privacy options.

That’s a key gap in the current digital connection process which underlines the need for increased control measures on this front, and more options, like private messaging and audience controls, to help reassure users.

Which is the next key point – the report highlights the three key benefits of digital privacy, based on responses.

Snapchat privacy report

Each aspect facilitates more open communication, and without relevant measures in place, social platforms are not able to cater to these needs.

Self-expression is one of the most important elements, with users feeling more free to communicate when they’re comfortable with the available privacy tools and options.

Snapchat privacy report

Indeed, the majority of respondents indicated that privacy concerns impact what they share online, and how they communicate.

Snapchat privacy report

It’s an interesting consideration – originally, with the arrival of MySpace, Twitter and Facebook, there was a new sense of freedom and capacity to share your voice, and connect with like-minded people around the world, based on shared interests. Over time, that’s gradually shifted, as more controversies and concerns have arisen from over-sharing or past post insights, which has seen more people become more enclosed once again, and shy away from public sharing.

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Which makes sense, but it also means that what we see online is often not representative of the breadth of views out there, because many people are concerned about what sharing their thoughts and opinions could mean, and how it could potentially be used against them. Which is why more privacy controls can open up greater levels of expression and engagement, and why more people are looking to advanced tools, like messaging encryption, to gain that extra level of assurance.

Which is also why Snapchat has been able to maintain and grow its audience, despite rising competition in the space.

Snapchat privacy report

Snapchat has always presented itself as a key alternative for more intimate, private discussion, a place for friends to connect, not to broadcast your life to the world. And while that is also more restrictive, in a content sense, Snap’s approach has clearly resonated with a lot of people, and enabled it to carve a niche in the broader social and messaging space.

The report also goes into depth on the full reasons that influence how and why people share on social, and the tools that people rely on to enhance their experience.

Snapchat privacy report

There are some interesting insights and considerations here, which, as noted, largely reflect the latest social media innovations in improved audience controls, evolving private messaging tools, safety functions, reporting and more.

Without these elements, people simply won’t share, and won’t engage online at the same rate. And as we move into the next stage of digital connection, where we’re likely to spend even more time online, and potentially expose even more of ourselves, such measures will remain critically important in order to keep people safe.

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You can read Snapchat’s full ‘Global Perceptions of Privacy’ report here.

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New Report Underlines the Importance of Social Media in Connecting with Gen Z Consumers



New Report Underlines the Importance of Social Media in Connecting with Gen Z Consumers

Consumer expectations are rising, as is the importance of shared brand values, according to the latest data from market research provider Qualtrics.

To glean some insight into the shifting state of customer expectations, Qualtrics surveyed 9,000 consumers, across a breadth of age brackets, to measure the variance in importance on a range of measures between Gen Z, Baby Boomers and everything in between.

The findings highlight some key considerations for all brands – first off, the data indicates that Gen Z is the most likely to be upset by a negative interaction with a company.

Gen Z is the generation least likely to report being happy with their customer experience (on a scale of upset to delighted). Gen Z was the most upset by their interactions with federal agencies (only 13% gave a positive rating), followed by investment firms and airlines. Gen Z gave the highest ratings to social media and retail stores.

Gen Z consumers have grown up with social media and eCommerce, and they increasingly expect brands to cater to their specific needs, while they also know that they have both the means to publicly criticize a company due to negative interactions, and the capacity to easily switch, with a simple online search providing a range of competitor brands.

That’s increased their expectations around customer service and response, and it’s important for brands to consider this in their engagement and actions.

Younger consumers also value public health response, with Gen Z respondents twice as likely as Baby Boomers to stop purchasing from a brand because they felt their safety measures were insufficient. Which also works the opposite way too.

Gen Z consumers also put more emphasis on brand values – potentially a side effect of the social media era – with younger shoppers almost three times as likely as Baby Boomers to say that they were very familiar with the brand values of the products they choose.

Qualtrics consumer survey

With brands now able to communicate more about their business online, that’s opened up more capacity for consumers to also get an understanding of their stances and approach, and that expanded capability to connect with a brand on a deeper level can be a very powerful draw to generate stronger bonds and business.

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Indeed, for Gen Z consumers, maintaining a social media presence was the second-highest ranked way for brands to maintain relevance. No other generation ranked social media presence in the top three.

If that insight doesn’t underline the importance of building and maintaining a social media presence, I’m not sure what will – younger consumers want to feel more connected with every business that they buy from, and social media is the key linkage that facilitates such for this group.

There’s a range of additional insights in the full report from Qualtrics, which you can check out here. Some key considerations for marketers, especially those looking to connect with younger audiences.

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Instagram Adds New Stickers and AR Features to Celebrate Lunar New Year



Instagram Adds New Stickers and AR Features to Celebrate Chinese New Year

Instagram has added some new features to help users celebrate Lunar New Year, including new, themed stickers and a custom AR effect.

As you can see here, the new stickers commemorate the Year of the Tiger, with art by Hong Kong-based Ophelia Pang. The stickers provide a simple way to mark the event, which will be celebrated from January 31st to February 15th.

In addition, Instagram’s also added a #MyLNY2022 AR effect, which provides another way to engage with the celebration.

There’s actually a range of Lunar New Year effects available in the app, which you can find by using the search option at the end of the effects carousel.

Instagram released a similar set of Lunar New Year tools last year, which is part of its broader focus on maximizing engagement around cultural events.

 As explained by Instagram chief Adam Mosseri:

“When it comes to celebrating cultural moments, we want to be a platform where creators showcase their work.

Showcasing creativity is where Instagram is increasingly looking to align itself, as it works to differentiate the app from TikTok, which is more based on communal expression and meme-based sharing. If Instagram can put more focus on creative output, specifically, that could be a way to lean into the rising Web3 movement, in which, theoretically, creators could be better rewarded and celebrated for their work.

These Lunar New Year tools showcase the art of some creators, but the larger vision for Instagram is that it may be better placed to provide a platform for more artists in the same way, which could help it regain its momentum in the face of the TikTok challenge.

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You can check out Instagram’s Lunar New Year tools in the app.

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