Facebook has opened its first sales office in Africa, in Johannesburg, South Africa, the company said Monday. The goal is to capitalize on Africa's 200 million internet users, 60 percent of whom are already on Facebook.
The South African office will work with brands across the continent to tap into the growing consumer market to create native targeted ads.
"We know that a one-size-fits-all approach won't work when it comes to building products and solutions that address diverse needs on the continent, which is why we are committed to creating solutions tailored to people, businesses and specifically for African markets," said Ari Kesisoglu, regional director, Middle East North Africa for Facebook.
Facebook has 120 million users in Africa, with 80 percent of those users connecting via mobile devices. Africa is a mobile-first continent, with many people accessing the internet using feature phones.
Cheaper handsets, data plans and improved internet connections mean that Facebook, Twitter and other services can reach both the growing number of middle-class consumers as well as remote villagers. "Mobile is not a trend; it's the fastest development in communications we've ever seen. This couldn't be more true in Africa, where so many people are mobile-only," said Nicola Mendelsohn, Facebook's vice president for Europe, Middle East and Africa.
Facebook has been working with big brands, including Coca-Cola in Kenya and Virgin Mobile in South Africa, to create native ads tailored towards those audiences. Coke's Facebook campaign was designed to remind users of things that make Kenya great, with photos and the hashtag #KenyanHappiness. Facebook partnered with Nielsen to measure the impact of those ads and found that compared to similar campaigns, ad recall increased by 18 percent and users who saw the ads were 64 percent more likely to buy a Coke. Virgin Mobile's ad campaign, which was specifically designed for low-tech feature phones, reached more than 3 million people and ad recall increased by 11 percent.
Facebook also sees an opportunity to work with small and medium-size businesses, huge drivers of economic growth in Africa. Small business owners find it easy to set up Facebook pages for their businesses because they are already using the service personally.
For example, FunKids makes furniture for children and built its business on Facebook. Owner Ciiru Waweru started with posts asking friends to share and found those posts were driving in-store sales. Ciiru started advertising on Facebook and has now expanded into export markets. Online restaurant guide Eat Out Kenya has marketed its business entirely on Facebook, growing to 13 employees and more than 90,000 "likes."
"We are inspired by the incredible ways people and businesses in Africa use Facebook to connect. This momentum in Africa comes on top of strong advertiser partnerships and excellent adoption of our products across all regions," said Mendelsohn.
Worldwide there are two million small and medium businesses investing in ads every month, up 50 percent in the past year. In the first quarter of this year, 52 percent of Facebook's ad revenue came from outside the U.S. and Canada. With more than a billion people, Africa is a key market for Facebook and this investment aims to capture more of that market.
"Our mission will be to connect brands and consumers in Africa, creating value for all parties in the process," said Kesisoglu.