Screenshot via Meta/YouTube

The metaverse has “major potential” to help small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the Asia Pacific better cope with disruptions such as the pandemic, according to global tech firm Meta.  

“[The metaverse] is the next evolution of digital platforms,” said Dan Neary, vice president of Meta in Asia Pacific, at a virtual press conference on Dec. 3. “It’s more pronounced in APAC than anywhere else if you think about the speed by which many industries, entire industries, have adapted to things like mobile or messaging.”  

He defined the metaverse as a “set of virtual spaces where you can create and explore with other people who aren’t in the same physical space as you.” This includes sites like Facebook and Instagram where livestreaming allows for interactive experiences.  

In September, Meta’s report on business recovery found that 21% of operational SMEs in the Philippines that use Facebook reported higher sales this year compared to 2020.   

However, only 60% of Filipino SMEs surveyed said they use digital tools for their operations. In Vietnam, 94% of their SMEs have adapted — the highest in the region.  

“The power of digital transformation is helping businesses weather the storm,” explained Karen Teo, Meta APAC’s vice president for Global Business Group. “They use our apps to create virtual storefronts and reach customers.”  

Bee Books, an independent publishing house in India, shut their physical stores and moved entirely to social media. By hosting Q&As, storytelling on Facebook live, and collaborating with authors on an Instagram video series, the business survived on a digital customer base, said Ms. Teo. 

In the future, these two-dimensional apps will make way for more immersive 3D experiences, but Mr. Neary cautioned: “The reality is this is going to unfold over many years. This is closer to the start of the journey than the end of the journey.”  

With the metaverse still in its early days, developers are being careful. “We’re not building the metaverse, we’re building for the metaverse  addressing things like safety and security and making sure we’re anticipating the risks and getting things right,” said Mr. Neary.  

Meta is investing in research about safety, ethics, and responsible design, in collaboration with institutions such as the University of Hong Kong. “2022 is about helping businesses get future-ready,” he said. — Brontë H. Lacsamana