- Facebook introduced several video chat features to help people stay connected while the coronavirus pandemic prevents meeting in person, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced in a Facebook Live presentation on April 24. Messenger Rooms will soon let users of the social network's messaging app host video chats with as many as 50 people with no time limit, per a company blog post.
- Messenger users can create Rooms and control them in several ways, including choosing who is allowed to join, limiting the number of participants and removing them. Users can create Rooms in Messenger or Facebook, though the social network soon will add the feature to Instagram Direct, WhatsApp and Portal smart displays. Messenger also is rolling out artificial intelligence (AI) effects including 360-degree backgrounds that show chat participants in virtual landscapes.
- To support creators and small- and mid-sized businesses, Facebook plans to add a feature that will let them charge for access to livestreamed events on Facebook Live, such as online performances, classes and professional conferences. WhatsApp video calls have doubled their capacity to eight people, while people who use Facebook Dating soon will be able to go on virtual dates via Messenger, Zuckerberg said.
Facebook's expanded video chat features give mobile marketers the possibility of hosting virtual events with small groups, though other opportunities for sponsorship appears limited. By allowing creators and businesses to monetize their video chat events, Facebook can help to boost adoption of the platform as people use videoconferencing to stay connected during the pandemic.
The social media behemoth is emphasizing the privacy features of the video chats in Messenger, saying it won't view or listen to calls. That may help to allay concerns about its data-sharing scandals and serve as a distinction from chat platform Zoom, where security continues to post problems.
The surge in demand for videoconferencing during the pandemic has led Facebook and several other companies to ramp up video chat offerings that rival Zoom. Google last week introduced a gallery format to Google Meet that lets video chat participants see 16 participants at once, The Verge reported. Verizon this month acquired videoconferencing and event platform BlueJeans Network for a reported $400 million to expand its offering of immersive communications services. By upgrading its video chat features, Facebook can help to ensure its platforms keep people engaged while removing the need to download additional apps.
Though videoconferencing platforms traditionally aren't media outlets that sell ad inventory, they can be used for other kinds of marketing activities. A recent example is Chipotle Mexican Grill's "Chipotle Together" sessions that feature celebrity guests and up to 3,000 participants at a time. The online gatherings drove 500 million impressions and 100 earned media stories, the company told Marketing Dive, a sister publication to Mobile Marketer.
Facebook's new video chat features come as people grow more reliant on social networks to stay connected while stuck at home. The company said more than 700 million accounts participate in video calls in WhatsApp and Messenger each day. The number of calls on those apps more than doubled in many countries since the pandemic began, while the number of group video calls has jumped more than 10 times in some areas, per its blog post.