Facebook In Africa Learning Curve: How Is Business A Year After Opening Shop?

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Written by Dana Sanchez

A year after opening its first office in Africa, Facebook has grown 18 percent in Kenya, 16 percent in South Africa, and 6 percent in Nigeria, Forbes reported. That sounds like healthy growth, but it may not be fast enough for Facebook.

When U.S.-based Facebook opened its first office in South Africa a year ago, it said its users in Africa had grown 20 percent over the previous year.

Facebook needs to fast forward the rate at which people are connecting to the Internet, said Nunu Ntshingila, 51, in her first public address since being appointed head of Africa in 2015.

Almost 800-million people still are not connected in Africa, Ntshingila said. “As Facebook this is certainly something that is important for our mission and important for our platform.”

Some 14 million South Africans use Facebook, the social network says. That’s a 16.6 percent increase in the year since it last released figures, Forbes reported. Nigeria’s monthly active users grew to 16-million (from 15 million) — a 6.67 percent increase, as of the first quarter of 2016. Kenya has 5.3-million Facebook users (up from 4.3 million — a, 18.6 percent increase).

The Johannesburg Facebook office doesn’t really deal with products or innovation. Mainly it works with local businesses on how to use Facebook, and serve as a springboard for Facebook in the rest of Africa, HTXT reported.

When it comes to selling advertising in Africa, Facebook is a newcomer.

“We need to make sure that all brands are growing – those that have been around for 100 years and long before Facebook, to the business that disrupt the industry,” Ntshingila said.  “But everything is going into a certain level of disruption, and the question for us is, how do we accommodate that and continue to grow with that?”

Facebook still has a learning curve on how to better serve the African continent.

It’s is pushing ahead with plans to bring more Internet access to sub-Saharan Africa by leasing bandwidth capacity on three satellites currently in orbit, ITWeb reported. This will be used for its subsidized Express Wi-Fi paid service, which is part of its Internet.org program giving free Internet access to certain websites.

Facebook also plans to launch its own satellite later in 2016 with France-based satellite provider Eutelsat to provide Internet coverage across sub-Saharan Africa.

The satellite will help speed up how people connect to the Internet, “to make sure we continue to connect, not at the (current) rate, but we need to fast forward the rate people are connecting to the Internet,” Ntshingila said.

Internet is available to less than 2 percent of the populations in Guinea, Somalia, Burundi and Eritrea, according to the U.N., ITWeb reports. Worldwide, there are over 1.65 billion monthly active Facebook users. Africa represents just 8 percent of Facebook’s global monthly users.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced the new satellite in a Facebook post in April. He said, “A new satellite called AMOS-6 is going to provide Internet coverage to large parts of Sub-Saharan Africa. The AMOS-6 satellite is under construction now and will launch in 2016 into a geostationary orbit that will cover large parts of West, East and Southern Africa.”

It is a massive undertaking, but Ntshingila said the satellite will make Facebook part of the fourth industrial revolution – that is global connections.

The company will push some products like Facebook Lite, a new version of Facebook for Android that uses less data and works well across all network conditions, Ntshingila said. At less than 1 megabyte, Facebook Lite installs and loads fast. It includes features like news feed, status updates, photos and notifications.

In April, Facebook launched its Agency Ambassador Program for Africa to equip its agency partners with the skills and information to make the most of Facebook as a marketing and advertising platform.

Agency ambassadors have a direct line to Facebook and receive extensive training to help them become their agency’s expert in Facebook’s tools, technologies and solutions.

Translation: advertising sales.

Facebook in Africa learning curve

Here are some stats provided by Facebook on how it’s being used in Africa, according to ITWeb:

  • 14 million South Africans use the platform every month. That’s 52 percent of Internet users in the country.
  • 8 million South Africans use Facebook each day.
  • The top three social networks in South Africa are Facebook-owned WhatsApp (84 percent); Facebook (81 percent); and Google-owned YouTube (74 percent).
  • South Africans use Facebook for several reasons: 78 percent use it to connect with friends; 55 percent to voice opinions; and 55 percent to keep up with news and current affairs.
  • 37 percent of South Africans choose Facebook as their favorite platform, the “best to discover new content and products”; 47 percent say they have received product or service recommendations on Facebook.
  • Top three discoveries on Facebook among South Africans are technology (35 percent), entertainment (34 percent), and holiday travel (31 percent).
  • The top three places to use Facebook are: 83 percent at home; 69 percent before going to bed; and 53 percent at work.
  • South Africans have high expectations of brands and important social concerns: 68 percent say they expect advertising to be relevant to the people of South Africa. About 71 percent say they only pay attention to brands they trust.
  • Corruption is the biggest social concern in South Africans according to Facebook. Climate change is the least of South Africans’ worries.
  • South Africans are multi-device users, with 83 percent using two or more devices to access the Internet. However, 91 percent still access the Internet via fixed devices such as desktops and notebooks.
  • Mobile sophistication is growing among South Africans: 88 percent use smartphones daily for an average of five hours and 13 minutes a day.
  • 79 percent of feature-phone users say they plan to upgrade to a smartphone in the next two years.
  • Less than 10 percent of South Africans still use feature phones to access the Internet.
  • Nine out of 10 Internet users watch video content at least once a month, and 57 percent have posted or shared video content on Facebook.