Facebook's pivot to privacy — as outlined by Mark Zuckerberg in a open letter a few weeks ago — seems to be in full swing. Last week, former chief product officer Chris Cox, one of Facebook’s first engineers and the pioneer of News Feed left the company. Coupled with Zuckerberg's letter, the departure seems to signal the dawn of a new era for the social giant — an era in which private interaction matters more than public sharing. That shift will prioritize end-to-end encryption and ephemerality across the company’s family of apps, and could lead to serious changes for brands. 

What might Facebook look and act like in the future?

Facebook’s “burn the boats” moment could mean a slow deemphasis of the public commons of the News Feed as Facebook pushes people toward private messaging. We believe Facebook wants to make itself over in the image of WeChat, China’s “super-app.” Owned by Tencent, WeChat essentially functions as a proxy for the internet for its more than 1 billion daily active users, which make it the fifth most-used app in the world. The app combines services including messaging, voice and video calls, content feeds, mobile games, digital payments, commerce (shopping), ride-hailing, and about 1 million mini brand apps, or programs — and it takes a cut of most businesses within its ecosystem. Zuckerberg signaled a similar direction for Facebook in his letter, in which he wrote that messaging apps would become “a platform for many other kinds of private services," which could include payments and e-commerce services. For its part, Facebook already enables payments via Messenger, and earlier this week Instagram launched in-app purchases.

What does Facebook's pivot mean for advertisers?

In the short term, it means business as usual — Facebook still maintains a massive user base and stores of data on those users, which it will continue monetizing through targeted ads. News Feed won't go away until the users do. By some measures, Facebook's usage is slipping: Core Facebook usage fell by an estimated 15 million in 2019 versus 2017, the second straight year of declines, per Edison Research. But the platform counted about 2.3 billion monthly active users (MAU) as of Q4 2018 — that's still plenty of attention to [...]