Facebook gears up for Africa’s 1 billion users
The US has a population of approximately 322 million, about two-fifths of whom use Facebook.
In Africa, with more than 1 billion people, just 120 million use the social network.
That’s an opportunity Facebook can’t ignore, although the region poses challenges unlike those the company has faced in more developed markets.
To spur growth on the continent, Facebook is opening an office in an affluent suburb of Johannesburg next month. The sales office will be headed by Nunu Ntshingila (51) chair of WPP’s Ogilvy & Mather advertising agency in South Africa.
The company will find that winning customers in Nigeria or Kenya is tougher than in Nebraska or Kansas.
Africa has few fixed internet connections, so Facebook’s original website isn’t well-known. And while mobile internet is booming, data is expensive and smartphones are rare, with most people using cheaper – and less-capable – devices called feature phones, which can’t run Facebook’s full mobile application.
“This is one of the places where our next billion users are coming from,” said Nicola Mendelsohn, Facebook’s vice-president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
“It would be a massive missed opportunity. Africa matters.”
To win over consumers concerned about the cost of data or who live in areas with weak signals, Facebook is partnering with cellphone companies to offer what it calls internet.org, which gives people free airtime when they access Facebook and a few dozen other selected websites.
And it will soon introduce Facebook Lite, a lowbandwidth app that uses just a fraction of the data the standard application uses.