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If past trends continue, Facebook is likely to hit 1.5 billion users within the next two months. This week the company opened its first office in Africa, signaling a push to attract the next billion from the continent’s increasingly connected population. Facebook’s 120 million active users in Africa use the service predominantly on mobile only, but consumer habits are heavily influenced by the cost of handsets and data tariffs. The social network already offers targeted ad services for African markets and its user base has grown steadily, but achieving greater penetration will mean taking a more nuanced approach.
Internet.org, a movement spearheaded by Facebook in 2014 to bring limited Internet access to developing countries including Zambia and Kenya, was widely criticized. People in such areas don’t need “poor internet for poor people,” said PayTM founder Vijay Shakhar Sharma, an Indian entrepreneur; the requirement is for full service offerings that are tailored to their environment. Facebook is rolling out new products that should appeal in African markets.
Facebook Lite, a 2G-friendly service, makes the social network speedy and cheap on slow connections.
Facebook Lite, a 2G-friendly service, makes the social network speedy and cheap on slow connections. It launched this month. Another product, ‘missed call ads’ has been tested in India and will roll out in South Africa. When a user clicks an ad, it places a missed call to the advertiser, who would call back to provide more information. This echoes the ‘flash’ calling behavior common all over Africa, where a missed call can represent a message by itself. Facebook’s footprint in Africa is already growing fast. Winning the next billion, and adding sizeable ad revenues from firms operating in Africa, will be helped by these kinds of locally optimized strategies, rather than scaled-down services.