MENLO PARK, Calif.—Facebook Inc. on April 30 debuted an overhaul of its core social network and new business-focused tools, the first concrete steps in its plan to refashion itself into a private messaging and e-commerce company.
Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg unveiled a fresh design for the world’s biggest social network that de-emphasized its News Feed and showcased services like its messaging app, online marketplace, and video-on-demand site.
The company also rolled out features aimed both at encouraging users to interact with their close social circle as well as with businesses, including appointment booking and a “Secret Crush” option for Facebook Dating.
Zuckerberg in March promised changes to the advertising-driven social media company as it was under regulatory scrutiny regarding its platform and users’ data privacy. Facebook’s News Feed continues to draw ad dollars but user growth in its most lucrative markets has slowed.
“We believe that there is a community for everyone. So we’ve been working on a major evolution to make communities as central as friends,” said Zuckerberg on April 30, speaking at Facebook’s annual F8 conference, where the company gives developers a peek at new product releases.
Other Facebook executives introduced changes within the Messenger and Instagram apps aimed at helping businesses connect with customers, including appointment booking and enhanced shopping features as well as a tool to lure customers into direct conversations with companies via ads.
Zuckerberg identified private messaging, ephemeral stories and small groups as the fastest-growing areas of online communication. In the last three years, the number of people using WhatsApp has almost doubled.
The social media company is now working on “LightSpeed” in order to make its Messenger app smaller in size and faster. Facebook will also introduce Messenger for Mac and Windows and launch a new feature called “Product Catalog” for WhatsApp Business. The desktop version of Messenger will be available this fall.
“I know that we don’t exactly have the strongest reputation on privacy right now, to put it lightly,” Zuckerberg said.
The online ad market is largely dominated by Facebook and Alphabet Inc.’s Google. But by focusing more on messaging, e-commerce, payment, and enterprise-focused tools, Facebook will also need to battle the likes of Amazon.com Inc and Microsoft Corp as well as fast-growing Silicon Valley unicorns like workplace messaging app Slack.
“We’ve shown time and again as a company that we have what it takes to evolve,” Zuckerberg said.
Facebook pulled in nearly $56 billion in revenue last year, almost of all which came from showing ads to the 2.7 billion people who access its family of apps each month.
But Facebook is no longer adding many new users in the United States and Europe, its most lucrative markets, and it must find additional sources of revenue if it is to sustain growth.
The product releases at F8 indicate its answer involves efforts to keep users on its apps for longer, coupled with e-commerce tools Facebook is hoping businesses will pay to use.
Features that drive the most user engagement, like Stories and videos, are being decked out with new tools and given increased prominence across the platforms.
One new feature will allow users to watch videos together in Messenger, while also viewing each other’s reactions in simultaneous texts and video chats.
Facebook Dating will be expanded into 14 new markets, including places in Asia like the Philippines where Facebook has high user growth. A “Secret Crush” feature will allows users to explore potential romantic relationships within their friend circle.
The company is also courting businesses, giving them ways to chat with customers and conduct transactions, similar to how consumers in China are already shopping on services like WeChat.
Instagram is expanding a sales system introduced last month, allowing public figures, known as influencers, to tag products in their posts so fans can buy them right away.
Sellers on Marketplace will likewise receive payments and arrange shipping directly within Facebook.
By Katie Paul