Facebook's (NASDAQ:FB) ultimate goal is to connect and understand the world. On its way there, it has some intermediate and long-term goals that will contribute to the overall aspiration. In the company's most recent conference call with analysts, CEO Mark Zuckerberg talked about the company's ambitions in three-year, five-year, and 10-year goals.
This information can help investors understand Facebook's strategies and investments over the next few years. They can then determine if the $19 billion acquisition of WhatsApp, for example, actually helps Facebook achieve its goal.
Here's where Facebook sees itself in the next three, five, and 10 years, according to comments Zuckerberg made in the Oct. 28 conference call.
Over the next three years, our main goals are around continuing to grow and serve our existing communities and businesses and help them reach their full potential.
When Zuckerberg talks about "existing communities" he's talking about Facebook products that have close to 1 billion users because, as he noted later in Facebook's earnings call, things don't get interesting "until they have about a billion people using them." So, Facebook is looking to grow and serve its main social networking product, along with components such as Groups, Pages, and News Feed.
To that end, the company plans to increase the amount of content organized around public events like the Superbowl and users' interactions with public figures such as athletes, actors, and musicians. More public content and interactions mean better engagement and more advertising opportunities.
The company is also investing heavily in video to improve its News Feeds. This year, Facebook rolled out autoplay videos in News Feeds, and it purchased LiveRail, which could help the company monetize the growing number of embedded videos on its website. Facebook still has work to do to take on YouTube and get more high-quality native video uploads, but it's certainly reasonable to expect that video will generate a significant amount of revenue for Facebook in three years.
Finally, Atlas -- Facebook's new demand-side ad platform -- will play a big part in helping the company improve its ad relevancy and digital ad campaign measurements. The result ought to be sustained growth in Facebook's price per ad, which increased a whopping 274% last quarter. While part of the increase in price per ad involves changes to Facebook's advertising formats, the company is also seeing an increase in mobile ad prices. Atlas will help drive mobile ad prices higher by providing better tracking capabilities across devices.
Over the next five years, our goals are around taking our next generation of services, Instagram, Messenger, WhatsApp, and Search and helping them connect billions of people and become important businesses in their own right.
Earlier this year, Facebook forced its mobile users to download the Messenger app in order to continue using the service on mobile. The move paid off, and Facebook recently announced that Messenger had surpassed 500 million active users.
Messenger is well on its way to 1 billion users, and at this point it's really a question of whether it will get there before the company's newly acquired WhatsApp property. Facebook sees the two messaging services attracting different user bases -- Messenger is for friends, and WhatsApp is to get in touch with people you wouldn't want to friend on Facebook. Facebook is also looking to add voice calling to WhatsApp's service; that service is already available on Facebook Messenger. International calling could be how Facebook monetizes WhatsApp.
Instagram is still a long way away from 1 billion users, but it is growing quickly. Instagram users now spend an average of 21 minutes per day on the platform, which presents a significant opportunity for advertising. The company has been slow to roll out ads, and its new video ads have been uninspiring thus far. Hopefully, Facebook can figure out how to monetize its users better within five years.
The most interesting product from Zuckerberg's list is Search. The company's current Search product, Graph Search, is underwhelming, and remains largely unused except to find other users. If Facebook develops a better search product that uses its social graph to help improve results, it could attract a larger audience to the product, and get them to stay on Facebook longer.
For the next 10 years our focus is on driving the fundamental changes in the world that we need to achieve our mission, connecting the whole world, understanding a world with big leaps in [artificial intelligences] and developing the next generation of platforms.
Facebook's biggest effort over the next decade is the company's Internet.org initiative, a partnership whose founding members also include Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm, and Samsung and whose stated goal is to "make Internet access available to the two-thirds of the world who are not yet connected, and to bring the same opportunities to everyone that the connected third of the world has today."
The Internet.org app has already launched in Zambia, Tanzania, and Kenya, and it provides free Internet access to a set of basic services. It's not completely altruistic, of course. The company's efforts result in more people using its service, with Facebook becoming many people's introduction to the Internet.
The company also sees its investment in virtual reality specialist Oculus having a major impact in 10 years. While many laughed at Facebook for spending $2 billion on the acquisition, Zuckerberg thinks it has the potential to become the next major computing platform. It already made a deal with Samsung to create the Gear headset, and it has shipped more than 100,000 developer kits for the platform. Going forward, the company plans to invest aggressively in the platform.
Thinking long term
Zuckerberg's outline of three-, five-, and 10-year goals is a prime example of Facebook's long-term thinking that has allowed the company to grow its flagship product to 1.35 billion monthly active users, and will allow it to grow numerous other products to 1 billion-plus users.
If every business decision and investment moves the company closer to achieving one of the goals outlined in this article, investors should rest easy that the move will pay off at some point in the future. So far, Facebook has made very few missteps, no matter how misguided they seemed at the time.
Adam Levy has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Facebook. The Motley Fool owns shares of Facebook and Qualcomm. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.