This week, Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) will be judged against high expectations from investors when it reports its financial results for the final quarter of 2015. While the financial results in the company's earnings report will definitely be important, some of the items that will be most critical to long-term investors will likely be uncovered during the company's earnings call following the report.
Here are two important questions Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg may be asked during the earnings call, along with some relevant background on each topic.
How will Facebook reshuffle its priorities in 2016?
One of Facebook's strengths has been its ability to clearly identify its near-, mid-, and long-term priorities and execute accordingly.
Facebook CFO Dave Wehner laid out these priorities in plain sight in its first-quarter earnings call:
In the near term, we're investing to grow the community, execute on the existing business, both on the product side and then the advertising sales force side. In the mid‐term, we are building out those next generation of services to be great businesses that reach their full potential, so that's Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger. Then in the long‐term, we're investing in areas like the next‐generation computing platform, Internet.org, AI.
Investors will be looking for an update from management about where the priorities are now. More specifically, perhaps Facebook will explain what mid-term growth initiatives are becoming near-term priorities in 2016.
Could Messenger and WhatsApp be combined into one brand?
There was lots of progress made on both Facebook's Messenger and WhatsApp last year -- the company's two messaging brands. But one move earlier this month, which brought WhatsApp's strategy more closely aligned with Messenger's, prompts a particularly interesting question: Could the two platforms be combined this year?
Until earlier this month, WhatsApp's primary means of monetization was a $0.99 fee users had to pay every year after their first year on the platform. But WhatsApp admitted this month the monetization strategy hasn't been successful and its now dropping the fee.
What's WhatsApp's new plan for monetization? WhatsApp says it wants to eventually find a way to profit from business and consumer interactions -- the exact same approach to monetization Messenger is adopting.
With the two messaging platforms now in alignment when it comes to their visions for monetization, it's possible that the two messaging platforms could be combined. Indeed, it could be argued that the first step toward this eventual move took place when Facebook separated Messenger from Facebook into its own app in 2014.
WhatsApp and Messenger together would represent quite the social platform. The company said in its third-quarter earnings call that WhatsApp had now reached 900 million monthly active users and "continues to be on a path to reach a billion people and beyond." And earlier this year Facebook said Messenger has now reached the 800 million monthly active user milestone. While there's obviously going to be some overlap between both bands, it's certainly possible that their combined user base could exceed one billion users -- a feat that would make the merged platform second in size to only the native Facebook platform.
Facebook's fourth-quarter results will be released after market close on Wednesday and its earnings call will take place at 5:00 p.m. EST. For more analysis ahead of the results, check out this earnings preview.