Facebook in Africa: A mobile story

Facebook last week announced it has reached 100m monthly active users in Africa. Some 80% of these people access the social media platform from a mobile device.

Nicola Mendelsohn, Facebook’s vice president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, says in countries such as South Africa and Nigeria, people are increasingly using mobile devices to find information and share their experiences with the world.

“We also know that people will experience Facebook in unique ways across the world, especially in high-growth regions like Africa,” she adds.

The company is also helping its advertisers to achieve better results in emerging markets such as Africa. One of the challenges in less developed countries is that mobile network speeds vary greatly, which means not everyone experiences advertisements on Facebook in the same way. For example, showing a video ad to users with 2G connections may be a waste of money if they are unable to load the video or it buffers for minutes.

Facebook has therefore launched a feature that allows its advertisers to target people based on the network connection – 2G, 3G or 4G – they most often use when accessing Facebook.

Targeting by mobile network type allows advertisers to select advertisements that will run smoothly on any given device and connection speed.

Mendelsohn says the company is putting a lot of effort into these mobile initiatives. “We are partnering with clients and agencies to test these mobile-first solutions and work together to deliver rich brand messages at lower data costs through solutions such as bandwidth targeting or new products.”

Overcoming high data costs and connectivity challenges

Earlier this year Tanzanian mobile network operator Tigo gave its subscribers access to Facebook without incurring any data charges.

There are benefits for both mobile operators and the social network in giving people free access to Facebook. Declining voice and SMS income (for which Facebook-owned WhatsApp is partly responsible) are eating away at mobile operators’ revenues, says Mbwana Alliy, managing partner of Nairobi-based Savannah Fund.

“Data, value added services and mobile money are the only sectors for revenue growth in Africa, and Facebook can assist on data… People share links and articles on Facebook, [and] when users click away they will be spending money for data access outside of Facebook,” he explains.

A Facebook representative told How we made it in Africa that it offers technical support to mobile operators to introduce free or discounted access to its platform.

The social media giant is also embracing local languages in Africa. It has for example rolled out a Kiswahili version, which is spoken across East Africa, as well as parts of Central and Southern Africa.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, is looking to bring internet access to underserviced regions through the Internet.org initiative, of which Facebook is one of the main backers. While Internet.org is pitched as an philanthropic project, it definitely won’t hurt Facebook to have more people online to whom it can show its advertisements.