Q&A: Iain Mackenzie, pan-Euro communications manager, Facebook

Q&A: Iain Mackenzie, pan-Euro communications manager, Facebook

With Facebook recently celebrating its 10th birthday as it battles to remodel to respond to the shift in usage from desktop to mobile, HumanIPO caught up with Iain Mackenzie, the company’s pan-Euro communications manager, to discuss lessons learnt and emerging trends, as well as the company’s plans for 2014.

HumanIPO: What were the most positive trends Facebook noticed in 2013, and in Africa specifically?

Mackenzie: In 2013 we continued to see the effects of people shifting their Facebook use from desktop computers to mobile devices. Out of the 1.2 billion people using Facebook every month, 77 per cent access it from a phone or tablet. We have seen that the experience on mobile is even more engaging with mobile visitors typically spending longer on the service. The fact that they are coming back more often and sticking around suggests greater enjoyment while also being good for the businesses that advertise on Facebook and want to reach the people that matter most to them.

In Africa we see a continent which is even further ahead in the mobile journey; 83 per cent of people here access Facebook on mobile. With more and more people getting data-capable devices there is massive potential for growth.

Any negative trends?

We are really happy with the way people are using Facebook. In particular the growth of people using the service on a daily basis. More than 60 per cent of them now come back daily. But we’re not complacent and people who work at Facebook always think they could do better. That desire to be constantly innovating is what drives that growth. The speed at which things move can be exhausting, but it is also exhilarating.

How big is Facebook’s user base in Africa? Where are these users?

In Sub-Saharan Africa we currently have around 42 million people using Facebook every month. Just under half of them come back every day. We’ve not shared numbers on a country-by-country basis yet, but we will likely do so in the future.

What are the biggest obstacles to achieving high Facebook uptake in Africa?

One of the biggest challenges in Africa is the availability of bandwidth at a reasonable price. While subsea cables along the east and west coasts have brought greater connectivity to the continent, the inland infrastructure is still catching up. That means scarcity and expense for consumers. Last year Facebook launched an industry coalition called Internet.org whose goal is to bring connectivity to the five billion people in the world who are currently without it. A major part of that initiative is taking the lessons we have learned while building Facebook on things like data compression and infrastructure efficiency and seeking to apply them in places such as Africa.

What are Facebook’s plans for 2014?

We’ll continue to focus on the people who use Facebook and the quality of their experience. Do they feel like Facebook responds to their comments and requests? Are we giving them services that they want and need? When we launched the Lookback feature for our 10th anniversary – allowing people to make a video of their time on Facebook – we were overwhelmed by the positive response. We want to continue to delight in that way.

From a company perspective, we’ll be working to connect businesses with the people that matter most to them. In many countries the size of the available audience now rivals television, but with more precise targeting capabilities. We are working with advertisers to help them make best use of that power. Many of them are small and medium businesses. There are more than 25 million SMB pages on Facebook from cake shops to clothing retailers. More than a million of them use paid advertising. It is hugely gratifying for us to be part of their growth and success.

What are your plans in Africa?

Africa is incredibly exciting for Facebook. The continent is ahead of the world in some respects, because of its mass use of mobile devices to access the internet so we are learning a lot about how people use our service. We’re fully aware that when you bring a communications platform to Africa, Africa uses it to do more innovative things than you can possibly imagine. That happened with mobile payments some years ago and it will happen with Facebook too.

Africa will be a central part of the Internet.org project to bring connectivity to the whole world by creating new business models with mobile carriers, developing more efficient infrastructure and helping build more powerful, low-cost mobile devices.

Finally, we are now active on the ground, working with advertising partners across the continent. Already this year our leadership teams have spent time in South Africa and Nigeria. It’s just the beginning.


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