F8 is Facebook’s annual 2-day conference where developers and businesses explore what’s next in technology.

This year, in addition to product announcements, Mark Zuckerberg’s keynote on Day 1 noted that users have moved from using their apps to connect with large groups of people (“Town Square”) to conducting most of their interactions in Direct Messages or in Chat applications (“Living Room”).

With this shift, the focus of F8 2019 was how to help make private, more meaningful connections within the Facebook product suite.

Following the Users: A New Focus on Chat Apps and Direct Messaging
Users are engaging heavily in private interactions within Facebook’s Messenger, Whatsapp, and Instagram Direct Message products. Users are also posting in Stories more than ever, as they are less permanent and promote freedom and creativity.

Facebook has recognized that users may not want their private conversations to be permanent or monitored, so is working towards full encryption of private communication and reduced permanence of content. The vision for Messenger is to become the world’s fastest, lightest, most reliable and secure messaging platform.

With all of this overt focus on privacy and one-to-one messaging, it might seem like Facebook has taken a step away from its friendliness toward (or even acknowledgment of) advertisers. But their doubling down on Messenger does have some clear and important implications for businesses.

Messenger Brings New Life to Customer Service Experience
There are 20 billion messages sent between people and businesses on Messenger every month, and 75% of consumers say they would prefer to message a business rather than contact them through any other method. While Facebook encourages the shift to private conversations, it will also support new business features like Whatsapp for businesses, which will enable brands to continue to interact with users in private spaces vs. engaging users in comments and on brand pages. It’s becoming de rigeur for companies to not only be reachable via Messenger, but to effectively use the capabilities of the platform like AI and personalization through in-app authentication.

Businesses will soon be able to conduct their entire customer experience through the platform without customers needing to visit an external website or physical location at all. From booking appointments through Messenger and Whatsapp, to encouraging product trials in pop-ups, Facebook aims to help businesses bridge the gap between online and offline.

Later this year, Instagram will enable users to tag specific products within their images, expanding the footprint of Shoppable posts (currently only available on posts that come directly from brand pages). This will decrease barriers between Influencers and ROI and allow advertisers to compare their performance more easily. A “Shopping Tab,” similar to the Explore Tab on Instagram, will also be released. This will encourage browsing beyond users’ personal feeds and be tailored to accounts that have Instagram checkout enabled.

Groups Build Community & Meaningful Dialogue
Facebook is shining a spotlight on Groups as a more powerful way to continue to help users form connections around their passion points vs. Feed. In fact, FB5 (Facebook’s newest look and feel) makes Groups central to the revamped user experience, with an entire tab devoted to your own Groups and a multitude of ways to discover new Groups. As evidenced by the 1.4B people in Groups around the world, and with 29% citing that they consider Groups to be more meaningful and fulfilling, it’s clear people find value in the niche communities they join and build together.

Brands and business cannot ignore this untapped value. Unlike other digital spaces, these communities aren’t comprised of passive, numbly-scrolling users. They are filled with active, engaged and devoted fans – already self-categorized into nuanced, qualified targets like active runners, health nuts, new homeowners or self-taught cooks. The ability to identify and reach people who matter to your brand is unparalleled within Facebook Groups.

Word of mouth matters again
As marketers, it can feel increasingly difficult to navigate the growing demand for privacy within the social media landscape. Our goal of pushing messaging at scale often seems entirely at odds with today’s consumer preference. And while social ad products will continue to grow more sophisticated and effective, it’s important to remember that the vast majority of social media activity is private – and with the investment platforms are making in messaging, we can expect that proportion to keep growing. The smartest brands of the next few years will use this as an opportunity to ensure that the things their brand stands for – the value they provide, or the emotions they evoke – will incite people to talk about and recommend them.

Facebook Groups provides brands with a unique opportunity to embrace this behavior shift and create space for users to find connection and cohesion. If done right, brands can unlock a whole new, highly-positive side of Facebook and create a rich community of devoted fans.

Privacy at the Forefront
Every session at F8 included privacy as a major component.  While this new focus on privacy may leave advertisers wondering about the validity of their current targeting strategies, Facebook will continue to track and group users according to their interests, demo, location, and behaviors, which will be available for advertiser targeting.