POV: What is the future of virtual reality and paid social?

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How will virtual reality change the future of social media? Head of Paid Social, Amy Cox, explores what this new tech means for brands.

Paid Social is an ever-growing landscape and a fast one at that. Within my career, I’ve seen growth across platforms, in particular on Facebook and Instagram. Within the last couple of years, there’s been the rise of TikTok, and the advertising capabilities that come with that – which are rapidly expanding.

This is what makes social media such an exciting channel to work within, due to how fast-paced and ever-evolving it is. I think the momentum is only going to increase over the next few years in regard to new advertising abilities and shopping experiences for users, especially when we consider the rise of the Metaverse and what this means for marketers. My main prediction for social media advertising is around the rise in VR.

The Rise of Virtual Reality

Within VR, we’ve seen the launch of the Oculus in 2019, where it continues to thrive within the gaming space. This has become increasingly popular, with the second edition now launched. Oculus is a VR headset where a user can play hundreds of hit games, have one-of-a-kind experiences, participate in live events, explore new ways to stay fit and get involved with a growing community of users. In 2021, Oculus device sales were estimated at nearly 7M units, with this looking to increase in 2022. I’ve experienced using an Oculus myself and can say that, to me, it’s mind-blowing. The graphics and capabilities are amazing, as it’s giving a user a fully-immersive experience of whatever they’re doing – whether that’s playing a game or watching a video, etc.

Not only are the graphics and motion abilities steering the way, but the socialisation aspect is really prominent and strong. I played Beat Saber virtually with my friend, and our avatars could interact with one another based on what we were doing – I could wave to her within our game, and she could wave back. I was amazed at how sociable and interactive it was.

Augmented Reality and Social Media

With the rise of AR on social platforms, it appears only natural to me that this will cross into the VR landscape whereby users could try before they buy in terms of e-Commerce. For instance, the growth of this on Snapchat now sees 63% of the platform’s daily active users using AR filters within the app. That’s a huge audience base to resonate with within the platform - I think a lot of these users will likely already be users of VR, and so this number is only likely to increase with more popularity.

I think brands will start looking more at AR and how this can be applied within VR. Could you imagine an experience where you get served an ad which is relevant to you, are able to browse and try on items, and then make the purchase, all in one seamless process? This could easily lead to e-Commerce brands potentially having their own virtual shops. For instance, makeup and beauty brands could offer AR filters for users to try different shades and products on before purchasing, acting as a digital testing sample.

Especially with Meta owning Oculus, it makes it easily imaginable that there could be a virtual social media platform within the near future. Could it be that your current Facebook and Instagram profiles could easily translate into a virtual space? Or maybe this would be a new social media platform which would evolve? A space where users could interact with each other, post updates, share life stories, and where they can explore new avenues – potentially including new brands. Could this be the new place for influencers to thrive…? I think so!

Is Virtual Reality only for gamers?

Many would assume that VR technology is mainly for gamers. I would disagree and say that the future of VR is for everyone and anyone. I envisage it to be very similar to the likes of TikTok, whereby a user will have a bespoke and tailored experience based on their specific interests. They will get served content – both paid and organic – on recommendations to what they already engage with. This could be games, but as VR evolves I imagine this will include brand engagement and influencer content.

For instance, there are a lot of TV shows, particularly on BBC, which are showcasing house renovation ideas through the use of VR - like Virtually Home. This essentially allows people to “try before they buy” – aligning with how AR filters work currently. This makes me think about how an influencer could have their home mapped out in VR so that anyone can go and visit and try out some of their ideas in their own home. Likewise with brands, where they could have staged rooms/models which you can interact with, and again trial in your home or on yourself. All of this reminds me of films such as The Matrix, Free Guy and Ready Player One, whereby we’re starting to have virtual lives. However, it’s the excitement of how this can enhance our non-virtual life, rather than take away from it.

What should I do to advertise on VR?

Advertising and content creation for VR is out of reach for many at the moment but, if you’re interested, like I am, in jumping on this trend as soon as it becomes more widely available, then I recommend having a go on an Oculus if you’re able to, to experience the current capabilities, understand the experience first-hand, and start thinking about how your brand can create engaging VR content. Keeping up to date with Meta updates and releases would enable you to know what’s going on within the VR Oculus space. And, finally, keep your peepers peeled for emerging opportunities you can jump on.

If you’re a brand, I’d recommend getting all of your ducks in a row by keeping on top of current best practices in terms of technicalities – like having a dynamic feed in place. If there were shoppable capabilities within a VR space then you would need a feed to support this functionality. In addition to prepping for the future, it’s always a good idea to be up to date on all technical opportunities when it comes to advertising, maximising your conversion opportunities.

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Photo by Maxim Hopman on Unsplash

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