Facebook is targeting ad dollars from small businesses in Africa

All eyes on Facebook in Africa
All eyes on Facebook in Africa
Image: Reuters/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo
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Facebook is building a team of young executives to win digital advertising dollars from small and medium sized businesses across Africa’s major markets.

Since opening its first African office in Johannesburg in 2015, the social media site has been mute about opening offices in other key markets such as Nigeria or Kenya that would deepen its marketing and advertising focus especially among local businesses. However, it is extending its physical reach by hiring international growth managers in Nairobi and Lagos, who will continue the push for Facebook’s wider adoption, which has remained relatively low compared to other continents.

With an estimated population of 1.2 billion people, Africa remains particularly attractive to the social networking site but the penetration is still low with only 80 million active users on a monthly basis in sub-Saharan Africa. Nigeria, the largest and most populous economy on the continent has the highest number of monthly users on Facebook in the region at 17 million, followed by South Africa with 14 million. Kenya comes a distant third with 5.7 million active users on Facebook on a monthly basis.

As it moves to enhance connectivity with people and businesses in Africa, the first major challenge will be to build a truly pan-African digital advertising market that will appeal to thousands of African start-ups that may not have huge budgets or financial muscle to advertise or market in the legacy media.

“We’re still trying to figure out the model for our teams there. I’m doing a lot of travel back and forth between Lagos and Johannesburg…that’s not sustainable,” Nunu Ntshingila, head of Facebook Africa told Quartz in Naivasha, Kenya.

The team leaders with start-up experience or those who have worked with successful entrepreneurial adventures in Africa will have a particular competitive edge in driving Facebook’s ambition of operating in Africa’s “highly ambiguous start-up environment”. This is particularly paramount as the social network giant has in recent times spoken bluntly of its passionate support to African SMEs by enabling them attain greater growth and visibility beyond their borders.

“Facebook has the right approach in looking to grow business SME upwards,” says Frank Maina who runs a marketing and advertising firm in Nairobi.

“They need to find a reseller method that creates SMEs that sell for them much like Safaricom has created M-Pesa agents, their community nature should replicate commercially as should their internal management structures.”

In 2015, Facebook held a total of 225 events across 19 countries, reaching over 200,000 small enterprise owners, training them on how to use its platform effectively to drive sales and deliver their marketing objectives.

However, Facebook still has to overcome a number of challenges to connect more users and small businesses in a continent where about 28% of the population is connected to the internet. High costs, poor network quality and low purchasing power have been blamed for this.

At its first FbStart Africa event held in Cape Town on Nov 15, the social network said its’s Express Wifi aims at supporting African entrepreneurs to provide quality internet access to their communities and make a steady income. The initiative, which supports internet access to the poor, is poised to deepen internet access across Africa and enhance connectivity between people and businesses. By August this year, Facebook had signed up nearly half of African countries in Africa to its Free Basics service.