MAY 1, 2018 by Kerry Flynn

Facebook’s F8 developer conference in years past has resembled a pep rally, with Facebook wowing the assembled with new products, star guests like Andy Samberg and high-profile musical acts. This year’s gathering should have a less triumphal tone (except for a performance by Logic), as the tech company grapples with pushback from the rise of fake news, its pivot away from media in its news feed and its data privacy scandals.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg instead needs to “demonstrate just how he plans to win back trust, not just from users, but also from investors and app developers,” said Michelle Steinberg, CEO of Domain Integrated, a digital marketing agency. “I expect a lot of hard questions will be asked. After all, this is a room full of software developers that understand Facebook’s technology and data.”

The subdued tone doesn’t mean F8 won’t be newsworthy. Here’s what marketers should expect from the two-day event.

Privacy, privacy, privacy
Facebook released a new ad last week focused on security. “We’re committed to doing more to keep you safe and protect your privacy. So that we can all get back to what made Facebook good in the first place: friends,” the ad reads.

Parker Ray, head of digital at MWWPR, said he expects Zuckerberg’s acknowledgment of the Cambridge Analytica scandal to come early to emphasize the importance, but also to “get it over with.” However, Facebook’s Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos will host a session titled “Security at Facebook Scale” following the keynote.

F8 also arrives before General Data Protection Regulation takes effect on May 25. Facebook has one session about data use notices, which may be useful for those behind on what the GDPR means for Facebook.

Zuckerberg may announce solutions for developers to access more data, given all the recently introduced restrictions. In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook shut down access to some tools and cut off third-party data providers like Experian and Acxiom.

“I expect Facebook to roll out a ‘native’ replacement for the third-party purchase data targeting. Facebook may license data directly from retailers and loyalty programs or predictively model purchase segments based on their extensive first-party data,” said Michael Horn, managing director of data science at Huge.

WTF publishers
Facebook hosted an off-the-record sideshow and also organized an official track for publishers at last year’s F8. But that isn’t the case this year. One publisher groused, “I am going to network primarily because I don’t expect much out of Facebook, other than more contrite apologies.”

In January, Facebook announced its push for “meaningful interactions,” which meant favoring posts from friends and family over Pages. That change collapsed organic reach for big Facebook-focused publishers like Mic.

But a major video publisher on Facebook said it hadn’t faced such drastic changes and that it’s still seeing success by natively publishing video on Pages and for Facebook Watch.

“You have to be careful about not chasing your tail with new features, but you have to be aware of them,” the publisher said. “We’re really going to feel the vibes. Of course, the official panels and the tracks mean something, but as you’re there, you feel what the talk of the town is.”

Facebook did reach out to some publishers for videos to showcase. Watch is still growing. Yet the platform needs to ensure that media companies can make money from it via better analytics and monetization like pre-roll, mid-roll and sponsorships.

Family of apps
The big blue app may be the largest social network. Yet Facebook has an embarrassment of riches, also owning three other billion-user networks that could incorporate more features for marketers. Instagram has faced some application programming interface restrictions, but marketers said they expect more improvements for analytics and storytelling, like with augmented reality.

“You will see Facebook leveraging its AR Studio and Camera Effects even further and going after Snapchat quite aggressively, as Snap continues to push mobile AR. In the next year, we will see Facebook/Instagram and Snap battle it out for AR dominance,” said Cathy Hackl, futurist at You Are Here.

Back at F8 2016, Facebook opened up Messenger as a platform for media and marketers to create chat-based experiences. Some partners like CNN and 1-800-Flowers jumped in early, but others waited. Shortly after Facebook’s decision to decrease publishers’ presence in the news feed, Quartz announced its new Messenger bot. Artists like G-Eazy have created bots to help sell merchandise.

WhatsApp Business app, released in January, now has more than 3 million users, Facebook revealed last week. Both Messenger and WhatsApp could push more commerce experiences.

Expanding AR and virtual reality
Zuckerberg heralded augmented reality last year with the slogan, “We’re making the camera the first augmented reality platform.” (Coincidentally, this followed Snapchat declaring itself a camera company.) Facebook welcomed brands to use new AR tools. This year, representatives from Nike and Warner Bros. will speak on a panel about AR.

Facebook also is expected to release its low-cost VR headset called Oculus Go. The product will cost $199, and it doesn’t require a phone or need to be tethered. That price point and ease of use could encourage more people to use VR and therefore convince more marketers to invest.

“Facebook will be the platform in which many users first encounter and adopt AR and VR solutions,” Horn said. “The race is on to publish the first few killer apps using the new capabilities.”

Snapchat announced shoppable AR earlier this month. Given Facebook’s history of copying Snapchat, it wouldn’t be surprising if F8 featured more AR commerce.

Other bets for Facebook
Facebook’s rumored video chat device reportedly won’t be onstage this year, but we can expect other businesses to get some attention.

Facebook has two sessions for Workplace, its enterprise software that provides Facebook-like work chat. Of course, data privacy is something that’s scrutinized at the company, so businesses may be less willing to give the social network access to more of their information.

Zuckerberg may emphasize the security of its current community in his keynote, but his long game has brought more people online. In last week’s earnings call, Zuckerberg revealed Facebook has provided internet access to more than 100 million people via Internet.org.