Sheryl Sandberg: When Mark Zuckerberg first said Facebook must focus on mobile nothing happened

Brands are set to spend $110 billion on advertising via smartphones in 2017, hoping to reach people using the more than 6 billion devices set to be in circulation this year.

And while businesses continue to work out how to make their advertising formats work on smartphones, they may be reassured by the fact that only five years ago, mobile giant Facebook was just introducing its own smartphone strategy, and was yet to make any revenue from the format, Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg has revealed.

She told an audience of marketing executives at the Cannes Lions advertising festival that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was initially ignored when he spoke about its smartphone strategy.

"Mark did this all hands (meeting) and said: 'we are going to be a mobile first company'. And do you know what happened? Nothing, nothing happened, everyone went back to their daily lives as they normally did," she said.

"And what they did, they would come to product presentations and they would present, here's our desktop app… and the last screen would be a mobile screenshot. And so Mark one day said: 'no more meetings until you come in with a mobile screenshot first', and he did not have any product meetings for a couple of weeks."

Sheryl Sandberg
Getty Images

Sandberg added that going mobile first felt like a risk at the time.

"We had no mobile revenue, not a little bit, none, and I'm looking at Mark and saying 'no one can fire you, and only you can fire me, so if you're in, I'm in'.

"So… we built the mobile app and we shipped it, we absolutely prioritized our newsfeed in mobile revenue over our desktop revenue."

Sandberg urged advertisers to create ads specifically for the mobile platform. "When there is a platform shift, people take the creative that worked for the last platform and put it on the new one. What's happening on video, in social, people are often taking their TV ads and putting them into the social environment, and that works sometimes, but it doesn't work as well as a native mobile ad."

And with the average American checking his or her phone 150 times a day, according to Sandberg, Facebook clearly wants marketers' ad dollars: brands are set to spend more than $30 billion this year on the platform.

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