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Why Meta’s Northern Europe chief is going all in on AI

Derya Matras, Meta's vice president for Northern Europe.
Derya Matras, Meta's vice president for Northern Europe.

Once Derya Matras has her business strategy locked in place, it is “relentless execution” from then on.

Matras, who is Meta’s vice president for the Middle East, Africa, Turkey and Northern Europe, which includes the UK, Ireland and Nordic countries, meticulously plotted out her strategy after starting at the tech giant’s London HQ — the company’s largest engineering hub outside of the US — in February last year.

This year, Matras, who joined Meta in 2015, is driving ahead on what the company, which owns Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, envisions as a massive revenue maker: artificial intelligence (AI) in advertising.

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Meta is overwhelmingly dependent on its advertising sales. Of the $40.1bn (£31.8bn) total revenue the social media company raked in during its most recent quarter, $38.7bn (£30.7bn) was from the more than 10m advertisers using its platforms.

“We’ve been focusing on AI in increasing advertiser performance,” said Matras, adding that creative tools are making the advertiser “more efficient, more productive, and more confident”.

Launched last October, the new AI tool for advertisers allows them to generate hundreds of different combinations at once, saving time and increasing the return on ad spend. For example, an ‘easy button’ allows advertisers to simultaneously test hundreds of different combinations, leading to the best setup. Meta has seen an average 32 per cent growth in return on ad spend across campaigns on its platforms, along with a 17 per cent decrease in cost per action, meaning improved rates of clicks, downloads or purchases for each advertising dollar invested.

“It has been a challenging year for the businesses within the macroeconomic environment,” said Matras, adding that this is forcing a lot of CEOs to think about efficient growth.

“And thinking about efficient growth, obviously employing the latest technologies and AI is top of mind for everyone,” she said.

“Thinking about efficient growth, obviously employing the latest technologies and AI is top of mind for everyone.”

Derya Matras

Another trend that has come to the fore is business messaging, which is an area that Meta wants to develop and exploit for more advertising revenues.

Businesses are increasingly using social media to connect with their customers, and consumers are increasingly wanting to engage with businesses through channels such as Instagram reels.

According to Meta, there are over 600m conversations happening between people and businesses every day across its platforms.

“When we look into how people are engaging on our platforms, we see that that’s where the engagement is moving to,” said Matras.

“For users, messaging is becoming the main form of communication. They want to also communicate with the businesses, with their favourite brands over messaging as well and we’ve seen an increase in both areas… and we see that ads are profoundly starting to get great results on business messaging,” she said.

The AI drive comes as Mark Zuckerberg’s company remains bullish on the Metaverse, despite it failing to attract the mass audiences that the company hoped for. Zuckerberg apologised for over-investing in the virtual reality (VR) enterprise in 2022, as he announced more than 11,000 staff would be laid off: “I got this wrong.”

But this has not stopped him. At the start of February, he said Reality Labs — the division of Meta that is funding its augmented and virtual reality exploits, including the Metaverse — is expecting operating losses to “increase meaningfully” in 2024 due to further investments into product development. This was not surprising given Zuckerberg has said his big bets might not yield returns until the 2030s.

Meta’s latest headset, the Quest 3, however, has excited some analysts who view it as an opportunity for major media and entertainment firms to embrace the technology and explore new experiences, particularly in sectors like sports and exclusive viewing events.

Matras said that she also remains excited about the future of the Metaverse and what its VR products can offer.

“You see that communication is moving towards more immersive formats and we believe that people will be looking for devices that more seamlessly interact with the world,” such as smart glasses and VR headsets, she said. “So we are fully committed to both AI and the Metaverse.”