Attempting to break into the smart speaker space, Facebook recently announced the launch of new hardware products - Portal and Portal+.
The Portal devices take audio commands (in partnership with Amazon’s Alexa), connect to Spotify or Pandora, allow you to watch videos from Facebook Watch and select content partners, and also utilize AI technology that revolutionizes the way users can video chat.
What isn’t included? Surprisingly, browsing your Facebook feed.
The key differentiator here compared to other smart speakers and home assistants is the camera.
Aiming to create what they refer to as “social presence,” the Portal’s camera uses facial detection technology to follow the user around the room as they are on a video call - feeling less like screen-to-screen communication and more like an authentic conversation - as if you’re in the same room.
Additionally, to increase user appeal, smart filters are built in to make video chatting a more interactive experience for its users.
This is certainly next-level for Facebook, and the smart speaker industry as a whole - and very telling of where the industry may be headed over the next few years.
With that being said, there are also key factors to keep in mind when considering how Facebook Portal may - or may not - become part of your marketing strategy.
The biggest roadblock standing in the way of Facebook Portal’s success is the level of trust consumers have with the company.
Over the past year, several controversies have emerged relating to how Facebook collects, uses, and shares your information.
When we’re talking about inviting a device into your home with a camera that literally follows you around your home, these vulnerabilities become even more frightening.
Because of these concerns, it’s not surprising that Portal’s announcement was met with a healthy degree of skepticism from the public over how secure this device will be.
Prepared for the public pushback, Facebook emphasized in their press release announcement that Portal was “Built with Privacy and Security in Mind.”
The announcement went on to summarize the features built-into the device to ensure this, including:
Disable the microphone with the touch of a button;
Built-in camera cover for when you’re not using the video chat feature; and
Layered security access - requiring a passcode to unlock the screen. If you want to change the passcode, you must validate with your Facebook password.
Additionally, and arguably the more important concern, was what data is being collected by the Portal, and how is it being used?
Facebook provided the following information:
"Facebook doesn’t listen to, view, or keep the contents of your Portal video calls. Your Portal conversations stay between you and the people you’re calling. In addition, video calls on Portal are encrypted, so your calls are always secure.
For added security, Smart Camera and Smart Sound use AI technology that runs locally on Portal, not on Facebook servers. Portal’s camera doesn’t use facial recognition and doesn’t identify who you are.
Like other voice-enabled devices, Portal only sends voice commands to Facebook servers after you say, 'Hey Portal.' You can delete your Portal’s voice history in your Facebook Activity Log at any time."
UPDATE: Since the time this article was published, Facebook has changed its answer about the data that will be collected through Portal and, according to recode, now says that while Portal does not have ads, data about who you call and data about which apps you use on Portal can be used to target you with ads on other Facebook-owned properties.
Here's what Facebook's spokesperson had to say:
Portal voice calling is built on the Messenger infrastructure, so when you make a video call on Portal, we collect the same types of information (i.e. usage data such as length of calls, frequency of calls) that we collect on other Messenger-enabled devices. We may use this information to inform the ads we show you across our platforms. Other general usage data, such as aggregate usage of apps, etc., may also feed into the information that we use to serve ads.
What Does this mean for Marketers?
The Portal is the first hardware device that a social media platform has released to the public. This is a big step for social media, but not an unexpected move given the increasing number of consumer’s purchasing such devices.
The home assistant and smart speaker market is having a huge effect on how we interact with technology, and consumers’ expectations for ease of use. Because social media is already such a significant part of the average person’s daily life, it’s not surprising that the smart speaker market was the next logical step for Facebook.
While the use cases for marketers are not yet clear, there are a few things to keep in mind:
Paid ad placement: While you can’t browse Facebook on the Portal, the devices are run off of Facebook’s Messenger and Facebook Watch programs, so should this be successful, we’re likely to see substantially higher rates of engagement with these tools - something marketers should keep in mind as they’re evaluating paid ad placement in their strategy.
Voice tech is becoming more prominent: Portal will likely not be the only major smart speaker launch we see over the coming year. As more and more companies are recognizing this shift in user behavior, it’s up to marketers to adapt this change into our own marketing strategy. This will affect SEO, content creation, and more in the coming years.
Keep data security and transparency top of mind: These events are very telling of the public's interest in keeping data secure, and the expectations for companies to be transparent about it. With data protection laws becoming increasingly stringent, it’s important for marketers to be aware of how they’re collecting, storing, and utilizing personal information. Even if laws like GDPR don’t apply to your area just yet, it’s important to start working these principles into your current strategy now - it will keep you compliant, and help to avoid a PR disaster down the line.
Trust is key: Facebook’s Portal is truly a revolutionary piece of technology, but it risks not being adopted due to public distrust of the company. This goes to show why trust is such an important factor on your customers’ buying decisions, and why the “delight” stage of the customer buying journey is so important to any company’s long term success.
Facebook’s Portal devices are just the latest entrant into this market, but a strong signal that the major social platforms see voice as an important channel. While tech giants such as Facebook, Google, and Amazon are at the forefront of this trend, their investment in this market is an indicator to the rest of us that we should begin to consider how voice will factor into our own marketing strategies going forward.