Augmented Reality is Coming to Facebook – Here’s What Marketers Need to Know

Augmented reality(AR) is coming to Facebook and we are extremely excited! Tuesday marked the first day of Facebook’s F8 Developer Conference. Eagerly anticipated by the tech community, the annual event is a showcase for some of the social network’s big-picture projects.  In his keynote speech, Mark Zuckerberg updated his audience on Facebook’s progress towards fulfilling the promises of the ten year roadmap he introduced last year. While he gave updates on everything from AI chatbots in messenger to a new social VR platform, the most significant announcement was Facebook’s investment in augmented reality. With Zuckerberg’s declaration that Facebook intends to turn your smartphone’s camera into a mainstream augmented reality tool, advertisers have been put on notice.

What is augmented reality?

Augmented Reality (or AR) is the use of digital visual effects (either static or animated) to add to, modify, or transform what we see in the real world. This contrasts with virtual reality, which aims to create wholly new digital environments divorced from what’s around us. Some past examples of augmented reality you’re probably familiar with include Google Glass (which presented information on a visual overlay), and the wildly popular Pokémon Go.

How is AR coming to Facebook?


You may have noticed recently that Facebook has integrated more and more camera functionality into its suite of apps, with varying degrees of success (the jury’s still out on Stories). It turns out this was a ploy to pave the way for a camera-driven augmented reality platform that will live within the Facebook ecosystem. While Zuckerberg made it clear that his long-term vision for augmented reality will eventually involve some sort of wearable interface, the Facebook Camera Effects suite is the social network’s first step towards turning their vision into a reality.

Launched on the first day of F8, the AR Studio gives developers access to tools like Face Tracker, scripting APIs from other apps, and sensor data. It’s currently in a closed beta, but you can still apply to test drive these tools.

At this stage, Facebook wants to establish a dedicated user base before inviting brands to participate. But that doesn’t mean marketers shouldn’t start dreaming up ways they can use these fancy new tools. Here are some speculative thoughts on how brands can capitalize on the introduction of augmented reality to the world’s largest social network.

Camera effects will let brands create their own “Masks” and 3D objects


One facet of Facebook Camera Effects centers on “masks” and other 3D effects that allows users to modify their selfies and elements of the surrounding environment. It seems that this facet of AR is a response to Snapchat, who introduced three-dimensional World Lenses on the same day. There’s no reason to think that Facebook won’t attempt to monetize this sort of feature set like its greatest competitor already has. Additionally, the one feature of Camera Effects that’s already available to the public, Frames, will allow brands and businesses to create their own filters. These AR effects will also be available for use in Facebook Live videos, making an already popular feature even more compelling. 

The fact that the technology for creating these “masks” and other 3D effects will be open source might prove to be a key differentiator. This would let brands with the chance to play around without having to outsource the creative work to Facebook or spend a ton of cash up front. Of course, with the ability for anyone to create these AR objects, it’s almost a given that brands will have to pay to stand out from the crowd.

Informational overlays create new opportunities for brick and mortar businesses

In his keynote, Zuckerberg envisioned a world where augmented reality seamlessly serves us information about the world around us. Think of  famous buildings with facts overlaid on them, and directions to points of interest that appear on the streets. Facebook will likely draw on their extensive knowledge graph and location-based data to serve users with contextually relevant information. This presents an opportunity for business to get information out to potential users when they’re nearby.

As an extension of this concept, Facebook is essentially folding check-ins to the AR space as well. Users will be able to leave behind “notes” and other forms of visual markup at certain locations that their friends can see. Businesses would do well to encourage these AR check-ins. The social proof that comes from a friend’s recommendation is an invaluable marketing asset in its own right, and there’s no doubt Facebook will try to incorporate some of the data that AR generates to refine what information it presents to users (and how) down the road.

Brands without their own retail locations shouldn’t feel left out. Zuckerberg also demonstrated how AR could provide information about products as you encounter them in the real world, possibly including links to purchase through your smartphone. Regardless of your brand or business, this use case underscores how important it is to ensure that you’ve claimed your business on Facebook. Providing the social network with as much useful information about who, what, and where you are as possible will continue to pay dividends.

Interactive and visual elements open up the possibility for new creative formats


From interactive games to art “installations” that transcend the limitations of physical space, the early examples of what’s possible within Facebook’s AR ecosystem feel limitless. Whether by commissioning a digital mural or adding virtual objects that enhance how consumers interact with your product, marketers will have an opportunity to engage with their audiences and add value in ways that simply weren’t possible at scale before. 

Have any thoughts on what the future of augmented reality on Facebook may hold? Let us know with a comment.

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