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Facebook F8 Refresh: New business tools for WhatsApp, Instagram announced

Facebook's annual developer conference took place as a one-day virtual event after being canceled last year over concerns regarding coronavirus. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg
Facebook's annual developer conference took place as a one-day virtual event after being canceled last year over concerns regarding coronavirus. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg (Bloomberg)

Facebook at F8 introduced a handful of programming updates aimed at helping companies use WhatsApp and Instagram, Facebook’s messaging and photo-sharing apps.

Facebook Inc. executives used the company’s annual developer conference to tout new tools for businesses to power the future of digital commerce.

The social network on Wednesday introduced a handful of programming updates aimed at helping companies use WhatsApp and Instagram, Facebook’s messaging and photo-sharing apps, to lure new customers and keep existing ones.

Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg said while the pandemic forced the company to pare back the normally glitzy in-person F8 conference to a virtual event, it let executives refocus on ways developers could innovate on the company’s platforms.

“When developers have access to the right tools they can build things that create value for everyone, whether that’s social experiences that bring people joy or new ways for business to stay afloat during a crisis,” Zuckerberg said.

Ankur Prasad, Facebook’s director of business messaging, said the company is giving developers access to Instagram’s application programming interface to build new messaging tools for businesses. The changes could, for example, let customers get automated answers to questions such as what time a business opens without leaving Instagram to find out on a different app.

The Menlo Park, California-based social media giant is trying to bolster online offerings for businesses as they navigate the re-emergence of shopping at brick-and-mortar stores. Previously, Facebook executives warned the company could see sluggish revenue growth in the second half of the year as lockdowns ease and people feel more comfortable returning to offline activities.

Facebook also said it’s expanding the ways companies can communicate with their customers using WhatsApp, such as alerting people when a popular item is back in stock.

“We’re building new features for businesses to provide responses so customers can quickly and easily provide an answer or tell a business what they want,” said Ajit Varma, WhatsApp’s head of business products.

Roughly, 175 million people message a business on WhatsApp every day, Varma said.

Facebook has been trying to increase the ways it can monetize its messaging business, which has been expanding to include customer-service products that help companies interact with people via chat apps, like WhatsApp and Messenger. Last year, the company bought the customer service software startup Kustomer Inc. Facebook also invested in Jio Platforms, an Indian internet giant that WhatsApp plans to partner with on commerce.

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