Facebook in Africa: mobile phones and SME advertisers are key

“Our key areas of focus for the next few years – especially if you look at Africa and other emerging markets – are growth, engagement and monetisation. However, to achieve this it [means] putting mobile first.”

This is according to Nicola D’Elia, Facebook’s growth manager for Africa, who told an audience at last week’s AfricaCom conference in Cape Town, South Africa that the social media company is shifting its focus from PC to mobile. Not only does Facebook view this as a way of growing the number of users in Africa (and across the world in general), but also as a means of bringing Facebook advertisers closer to users.

“People are using, more and more, their mobile device to make decisions on how they spend their time and their money,” said D’Elia. “So what are the implications of this? It’s that social media is so widely adopted that marketers can leverage it for reaching exactly the people they want, the audience they want.”

He added that social media usage on mobile phones is not just attractive to advertisers because of the reach it has, but it’s also about delivering the right message through specific consumer group targeting. “For instance, marketers on TV… they might not reach people who are important to them or they may over-deliver to some of their audience, while with social media you can exactly target the right segment you are interested in.”

Africa is a market for potential growth for Facebook and D’Elia explained that the company needs to provide a quality experience for their users across every device. This means not only focusing on adapting Facebook for smartphones, but also on the simpler feature phones, which are more widely used.

Facebook’s growth in Africa

D’Elia told How we made it in Africa that the African countries in which Facebook is seeing the biggest growth are the markets with growing data penetration.

“There is a strong correlation between data penetration and Facebook penetration. So I’m not saying anything new if I say that countries like Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt and Kenya are some of our largest markets in Africa. Growth will come where we are able to deliver the highest data penetration and in sub-Saharan Africa it’s definitely through mobile. We can achieve this in many different ways.”

One of the ways Facebook is trying to grow its penetration on the continent is through partnering with mobile operators and developers in Africa.

“Some of the barriers are presented by, in some cases, the device. More than 50% of the devices are non-data capable. This is a challenge,” explained D’Elia. “Price of data is another challenge and awareness, general awareness, is also a challenge. And we try to address these challenges through a strong partnership culture with operators, with developers, with OEM (original equipment manufacturer) and we are confident that growth is going to continue.”

Currently the social media platform has over 124m users in Africa and the Middle East. This presents an attractive consumer base for companies to tap into.

According to D’Elia, Facebook is seeing a growing number of companies, especially those in the FMCG industry, target Facebook users in Nigeria. South Africa has also seen more advertisers use the Facebook platform to target consumers.

However, with now over 1m monthly advertisers worldwide, D’Elia highlighted that the social media platform is looking to target small to medium enterprises (SMEs) in Africa, which it sees as holding considerable advertising potential for Facebook. To attract these SMEs, D’Elia said he believes the company must ensure its self-service advertising feature is simple to use.