Facebook has been touting 4 billion daily videos, building new video-focused products like auto-play and “Suggested Video” in News Feed and showing off the success of video ads. But for many of Facebook’s new sign-ups, those posts and ads simply cannot function.
That's because of lower connection speeds in developing markets like India, Africa and Latin America, where Facebook is growing fastest. But Facebook is looking to change that with new types of low-bandwidth ads to fuel international growth, the company announced Thursday.
“Our ads work on slow connections,” Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg says in a new marketing video.
Those ads include a new “lightweight video" product called “Slideshow” that lets marketers string together three to seven photos that will play over a chosen length. Marketers can also select transition preference, a thumbnail and choose from stock photos if they do not have their own materials. Think PowerPoint, but in the Facebook News Feed, and without you clicking or scrolling. Any image creative sent to Facebook also will adjust to fit the screen of any smartphone, without work from the advertisers’ side.
“We take care that [an ad] renders beautifully no matter what device you’re on,” said Nikila Srinivasan, a product manager for emerging markets, at a presentation at Facebook’s Menlo Park, California, headquarters. “We have to think about devices but we also have to think about connectivity.”
A Mandated Switch
Facebook has added nearly 1.5 billion people to actively use its network, but the American-born tech giant has to work differently to reach another billion. For global dominance, it’s not just about marketing and convincing the adults and the youths to tap Facebook as their social network of choice.
“It started with letting high school kids join ... and letting people who didn’t speak English,” said Chris Cox, Facebook’s chief product officer. “Each year we look at what’s the next group of people.”
Facebook’s growth in the United States has plateaued. The biggest percent change for user growth in 2014 came from the Asia-Pacific region at 22.8 percent, followed by Latin America at 15.7 percent and the Middle East and Africa at 15.7 percent. North America experienced only 3.3 percent increase. That may drop to 3.1 percent for 2015, eMarketer estimates.
It’s not the case that all these potential consumers are against Facebook, despite the company’s stiff competition with services like WeChat. “Indians are crazy about social media. They are absolutely about every single minute of their lives being on social media,” Lourdes S. Casanova, academic director of the emerging markets institute at the Johnson School of Business at Cornell University, told International Business Times.
But those markets do not resemble the United States, notably in their computer and mobile infrastructure. In fact, in Facebook’s largest-growing market, India, only 13 percent have access to 3G and 4G and the majority rely on 2G, the company reported.
That’s one reason Facebook recently started an initiative called “2G Tuesdays” where any Facebook employee can simulate a 2G connection on their smartphone with the Facebook app. Those users in emerging markets are also more prone to using Android devices to which Facebook’s chief product officer said he’s “mandating a switch of a whole bunch of my team to Android. We need to do everyone we can to have most people using what our consumers have.”
Nearly half of the United States population has signed on to Facebook, but the network is now building for the other regions. Only about 12.8 percent of the Middle East and Africa population and 10.9 percent of the Asia and Pacific region use Facebook. Comparing each region’s population of Internet users to whom Facebook has penetrated, Latin America is actually the highest followed by North America and Western Europe.
Beyond adapting to what consumers already have access to, Facebook’s Internet.org initiative is dedicated to bringing more people online, and potentially, to Facebook. But that mission requires much more than just an app.
“People in the world don’t have access to the Internet. That’s a network infrastructure problem,” said Hunter Newby, CEO at Allied Fiber, a U.S.-based company building a fiber-optic system. “Facebook is one of the main actors and the campaign manager.”
Supporting The System
In the era far beyond a college-exclusive website, Facebook nowadays is not just a connecting tool between friends and colleagues. The company has grown as a hub -- on both desktop and mobile -- for small-business owners and advertising giants.
So along with continuing its marketing pitch and adding offices in emerging markets like Johannesburg, Facebook is coming in with tools for not only messaging friends but for consumers to connect with the businesses and entertainment around them.
“People love connecting with businesses,” said Kelly MacLean, Facebook’s product marketing manager on ads for emerging markets. “We saw in real time people taking pictures of ads on Facebook and messaging them.”
Brian Boland, Facebook’s vice president of ad tech, expressed a similar insight to IBT in an interview in September. “I think what people don’t understand about our network is that people love to discover products. These are all experiences that we watch people do, and we build products for,” Boland said.
Advertising is what Facebook thrives on. Mobile ads account for 76 percent of the company’s advertising revenue and 72 percent of its total revenue, Facebook reported in July. More than half of its revenue comes from international markets.
The new ad unit called Slideshow has proved its worth in some market tests. Coca-Cola used the tool for ad about the TV show “Coke Studio Africa.” The marketing team reached 2 million in Kenya and Nigeria, doubling its 1 million projection.
As Facebook builds more for this market, the company is wary about making each sign-up experience catered to the individual based on culture and connection. “People every day are using Facebook for the first time,” Facebook’s Cox said. “If we don’t get the translation exactly right we totally fail.”
Allied Fiber’s Newby agreed. “The user experience is paramount. If not, word of mouth will kill it,” he said.