Since Meta shared its vision for the metaverse, I’ve had many conversations with friends and co-workers about what this new reality might look like. One question I keep being asked is: What are the implications for business? The answer is, the metaverse offers huge—and hugely exciting—commercial opportunities, particularly, I think, for our region.
Asia has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to digital adoption. Never has this been more evident than over the past two years. When I joined Meta in 2013, we were witnessing the beginnings of the great desktop-to-mobile migration. Back then, few of us could have imagined that a decade’s worth of digital transformation would take place in just a year. But that’s what's happened, partly because of the consumer habits brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.
In our annual study of the digital landscape in Southeast Asia with Bain & Co, we discovered that 70 million people—equivalent to the entire population of the United Kingdom—have become digital consumers since the pandemic hit. Almost eight in 10 people (78%) among Southeast Asia’s population of 15-year-olds and above will be digital consumers by the end of 2021, with the strongest growth in Indonesia. The region’s online retail penetration is also projected to grow 85% year-on-year by the end of 2021 and is now larger than India’s or Brazil’s.
The hybrid online-offline world that’s evolved over the last two years has impacted just about every aspect of our lives, from teamwork and collaboration, to staying connected virtually, to shopping online both for necessities and luxuries.
The new opportunities
The metaverse, which we see as a set of virtual spaces, is set to be the successor to this, the mobile internet. And I have no doubt that Asia will be at the front of the pack in embracing the opportunities it offers. For business, those opportunities will be the biggest we’ve seen since the creation of the internet.
New technologies are adopted by people first, which creates a domino effect which drives entirely new business models—at Meta, we’ve seen this time and again.
Take business messaging. When we became used to the instantaneous nature of messaging our friends, we started to expect this convenience from businesses. The social restrictions imposed by the pandemic made it even more important to be able to message with a business in real time. We now know of many nimble small businesses that have built entire enterprises solely on social chat. Given the speed at which entire industries adapted to mobile and messaging, it’s not far-fetched to imagine that the same will happen with the metaverse.
Our platforms have already been used by businesses small and large to allow customers to experience products before they buy—particularly during the pandemic when lockdowns inhibited in-real-life experiences. Bubble Tea Club, a DIY business based in Melbourne, Australia, is one such example.
The business was born when Pam Yip, its co-founder and CMO, and her friend Jenny Le lost their jobs in 2020. They needed an income—and they were craving bubble tea. Since Melbourne had one of the strictest lockdowns in the world, Pam and Jenny decided to help people make it at home. In just four days, they found the ingredients, made the drink, filmed videos and posted photos on Instagram and Facebook—and connected with their customers via messaging.
Bubble Tea Club is now a $2 million business, and Pam and Jenny are planning how to enrich the experience using the metaverse. This next generation virtual reality will be much more immersive: it will allow customers to feel as if they are in the room where the bubble tea is made and to appreciate just how easy it is.
We’re being given glimpses of this future elsewhere, too: via the new virtual reality experiences we have in Horizon Workrooms, across gaming ecosystems worldwide, and in the technology industry broadly, where virtual spaces are being built. Many of the skills businesses are using today in our core apps to grow their business will apply in the metaverse. The same hybrid principles also apply. The metaverse isn’t about replacing in-person experiences; it’s about making what we do online better and more meaningful.
In the near term, we’ll experience the metaverse primarily through 2D apps, and we are focused on building ‘bridges’ from these into more immersive virtual, 3D experiences in the metaverse. The possible applications for organisations in the longer term are many—and they’re super exciting.
What's further ahead?
What about the creative possibilities for businesses in the longer term? As well as turning their Facebook or Instagram Shop into a virtual space in the metaverse for people to experience their products and brand as they would in a bricks-and-mortar shop, they might design limited-edition digital merchandise to promote an exciting new physical line, allowing fans to show their love for the brand in the metaverse.
Service-oriented businesses like painters or plumbers could conduct home consultations in the metaverse using WhatsApp video calls for customer support. Car dealers may find a whole new audience for sales if they were to offer virtual test drives in the metaverse.
An organisation could partner with a creator and host a live event in the metaverse to deepen engagement with their brand. They could customize their Workrooms with their own style and brand as they begin exploring work capabilities in Quest for Business, which allow their teams to interact in the virtual world.
And while many aspects of the metaverse will take shape over the next decade, there is plenty that businesses can be doing now to interact with their customers using the technology that will power it.
Applications for AR/VR are already becoming mainstream, allowing customers to do everything from try on clothes and shoes virtually to work remotely in virtual spaces. Brands are harnessing the power of creators—the new breed of influencers who understand better than anyone how to create alluring content on our platforms—using tools like Instagram AR filters. Take the filter based on Squid Game that Singapore-based artist Eugene Soh designed recently: he told us it went viral, connecting with millions of people all over the world.
Businesses that truly embrace the creative potential of our platforms won’t only be enhancing their customers’ experience today; they'll also be putting themselves in pole position for the metaverse reality of tomorrow.
Our vision is for the metaverse to reach a billion people in the next decade. For that to happen—for people to be able to engage in fully immersive experiences in new virtual spaces—we need to see a steep increase in access to hardware and significant improvements in connectivity across the world. In our region, we need to ensure that adoption is not skewed by factors outside people’s choice and control. That’s why we’re focused on increasing the availability and affordability of high-quality internet for everyone.
Our connectivity efforts have helped more than 300 million people access a faster internet. Bringing the next billion online will require many different strategies. I’m optimistic that in partnership with the businesses in Asia, we’ll be able to take the steps needed to reap the economic and social benefits of a digitally connected world—and allow us to create an electrifying new territory together that we’ll all benefit from.
Dan Neary is vice president of Meta APAC