Sign up to get full access to all our latest content, research, and network for everything customer contact.

Facebook's Virtual Reality Is A New Outlook On Marketing (And Customer Service)

Add bookmark

Matt Wujciak
09/02/2020

facebook

"Zoom fatigue" has been a trendy buzzword not just among remote employees, but most consumers who have gotten accustomed to virtual social outings. The concept addresses spatial presence, the feeling of “being there” that gives workers and employees a sense of belonging. While many parts of our daily lives revolve around video conferencing and digital chat, these tech sectors are experiencing rapid innovation in response to the “fatigue” everyone is feeling in this “new normal.” 

Not merely video platforms like Zoom (or Microsoft Teams, for a similar example), traditional social media channels are experiencing significant uptick during the pandemic as well.  A recent Statista survey showed that 29.7 percent of U.S. social media users used social media 1-2 additional hours per day. eMarketer notes that 51% of U.S. adults are using social media at higher rates during the pandemic. 

Along with video conferencing and social media, virtual reality (VR) in businesses has seen an increase in users too. VR apps like Rec Room, BigScreen, VRChat, and AltSpace have all seen an increase in traffic. 

What if we could combine the spatial presence of video platforms like Zoom, the social connection of traditional outlets like Facebook, and the gamification of virtual reality applications like Rec Room (or any other popular VR software)? How would businesses and consumers use an all-in-one approach to digital engagement? 

This past week, Facebook announced just that - the launch of the public beta for its social VR experience, Horizon, which will be used for work (and play).

"I believe the next phase of social media is presence," says early beta Horizon content creator and social media consultant, Navah Berg. "Imagine a place where a brand can invite their brand ambassadors to try out a product without hopping on an airplane? A place a brand can launch a press release without writing a press release but actually being there and sharing the news with a community of journalists in a get together in social VR. There are so many opportunities for brands and content creators. I can't wait to see what happens next."

Facebook doesn’t see Horizon merely as a way to increase Facebook users. They see it as the next computing platform that will "help people feel more present with each other, even when we're apart."

“Facebook Horizon may create a shift in what ‘social media’ means. Instead of consuming articles or reading friend's updates, Horizon offers a different type of online social interaction. Gameplay or world-building takes some of the strain out of being social that feeds creation,” said Cathy Hackl, futurist technology influencer and author of Marketing New Realities and The Augmented Workforce: How AI, AR, & 5G Will Impact Every Dollar You Make. 

A new outlook on marketing (and customer service)

“Suddenly, relating to a target audience isn't through ads (text, image, or video). It's becoming part of a customer's world and presenting a brand or business as a real being they can interact with in a natural way,” says Hackl. 

Facebook is demonstrating this in Horizon by deploying staff who will act as guides or hosts in public spaces. Facebook is attempting a futuristic outlook on customer service experience from submitting a request to being able to virtually walk up and talk to a Facebook employee. 

The main idea of Facebook Horizon is to be collaborative and interactive. This gives brands a chance to get in on the action. As Hackl said in Forbes, “Who wouldn't want to see Wendy's vs Burger King in a virtual paint ball fight - the winning team gets a free burger.” 

Taking gamification and instant gratification to a whole new level

Part of Horizon is “world-building,” but it’s really tapping into consumer interest in gamification and instant gratification. Marketing in virtual reality takes a different approach in this new evolving space. Companies could build their own world for users to explore, hiding Easter Eggs (hidden items places in movies or games) for explorers to find leading to discount codes or free items. Companies could harness the excitement that Ready Player One brought to VR by building a world where one lucky winner could rule it for a day.  

Creating a world for a brand within Horizon or branded virtual objects that Horizon users can reuse in their own designs are one way to take part in this new, social world. What better way to personalize a customer experience then to let the customer build it? 

As Hackl explained, instead of shooting a commercial in real life (which may be impacted due to the pandemic), in theory, brands could shoot one in Horizon, using real platform users as extras. The commercial (and making of it) could be livestreamed to Facebook and shared across other social platforms as well for maximum virality.  

Technologies like Horizon are years away from being commonly used. However, collaboration, gamification, and user-centric customization are all tools marketers need to get familiar with. Social presence in spatial computing will only get more advanced, especially as companies like Facebook ease the barrier to entry. 

Consumer trends that previously existed, but weren’t commonly known

The past six months of the pandemic have revealed a lot about cultures, uncovering many trends and demands for technologies that were already there. One being the decline of brick-and-mortar customer experiences and the increase in digital ones. In fact, according to CCW Digital research, when we asked consumers if they will make any of the following changes to your shopping/purchasing habits as a result of COVID-19, even when the pandemic subsides, roughly 1 out of 2 consumers, 49.16% will be taking fewer trips to stores. 48.43% will be buying more products online. A whopping 82% of consumers are progressively getting more comfortable in digital channels (especially as e-commerce, as well as digital social engagement reaches record breaking numbers). 

This is a time when the world is vulnerable, where every person and organization is adapting to life with a live virus in their midst, where no one is operating from a best-in-class pandemic playbook to survive modern financial Darwinism. Brands, including marketers and customer experience departments must become the very people they’re trying to reach. This means that among innovation, compliance, time and technology, humanity must become the greatest application. 

With over 150,000 global members, join the largest research hub for customer contact and customer experience professionals by subscribing here

For media coverage, lead gen, and digital marketing inquiries, (or to say hi), contact me at matt.wujciak@customermanagementpractice.com, or connect with me on Linkedin at Matt Wujciak.

RECOMMENDED