Although it groups the African region within its “Rest of World” operating segment, Facebook’s attention to — and resulting successes on — the continent indicate that Africa has the potential to play a significant role in the company’s future.
This month, Facebook reached 100 million active users in Africa, a figure that represents half of the continent’s Internet-connected population. Importantly, Facebook is keenly aware of the fact that 80 percent of these users access Facebook through mobile devices but that the user experience is negatively impacted by issues with affordability and connectivity. To address these barriers in Africa and other emerging markets, Facebook co-founded a multi-sector global partnership to bring the Internet to the nearly two-thirds of the world’s population who still are without affordable and reliable access. One of the partnership’s first projects has been the launch of an app that provides a set of free basic Internet services “as well as local resources about human rights, women’s rights, and civic engagement.” The app currently is available to Airtel mobile subscribers in Zambia and the partnership intends to introduce it more widely across the region. In addition, the Facebook Connectivity Lab is exploring innovative new ways to deliver the Internet such as through drones, satellites and lasers.
Facebook also has tailored its online advertisements — one of its primary sources of revenue — to be more compatible with these access barriers. Facebook has introduced a feature that allows advertisers to target users based on the type of network connection that the users typically use to access Facebook. This “targeting by mobile network type allows advertisers to select advertisements that will run smoothly on any given device and connection speed.”
Finally, in recognition of the fact that the continent is more than a consumer market but also a source of innovation, last week Facebook hosted its first ever “Creative Hackathon.” Done in partnership with Creative Week Cape Town, the Hackathon offered young creative designers “the opportunity to work in teams on a real creative brief for the Loeries Creative Future Scholarship.” Facebook also used Creative Week to “[talk] about how to unlock the potential of technology with creativity.”
Consistent throughout these initiatives are the themes of investing in an enabling environment and tailoring one’s products and services to realities on the ground. These are simple but important lessons for any company looking to succeed on the continent.
Note: Facebook Inc. is a current client of Covington & Burling LLP.