Why Facebook Likes MENA? In Conversation With Jonathan Labin

Inside View - Jonathan Labin, Facebook FWS

Like most markets, digital has been the biggest change agent in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The proliferation of mobile and social media channels transformed the Arabian and African consumer, creating a need to be connected to the world in an unprecedented manner. This in turn is strengthening digital platforms, and the likes of Facebook continue to see steady growth in the region. As of Q4 2014, Facebook has recorded 79 million monthly active people and 46 million daily active people. Over 80 per cent of its users are connecting through mobile.

Globally, over 70 per cent of Facebook’s advertising revenue is coming from mobile. The platform now has more than two million active advertisers, up from 1.5 million half a year ago. While various reasons can be attributed to these numbers, the winning philosophy is best explained when Jonathan Labin, Head of Facebook Middle East and North Africa, says, “Facebook wants to help businesses grow.” This mindset combined with Facebook’s primary positioning of connecting people with friends and family, discovering what’s going on, and sharing and expressing what matters to them is the key guiding principle behind the social media giant’s key decisions.

The people-first thought process has played an important role in bringing scale, but it is the layer of helping businesses achieve their objectives, that has made Facebook attractive to advertisers. Needless to say, much happens between the two points, and cornerstone to that process is mobile, and as is evident now, videos.

The Three-Part Formula
Mr Labin explains that Facebook offers variety of advertising solutions to enable companies reach their targeted audiences in the most effective manner. In addition, it recently launched an Ads Manager app to help businesses manage their ad campaigns on the go, through mobile devices.

Facebook has also paid specific attention to new players, and small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), making them a core part of its success. “Facebook has introduced a program called FBstart, which is designed to help early stage mobile startups build and grow their apps. The program provides startups with an exclusive community, worldwide events and mentorship from Facebook. We will continue to innovate and develop simple and effective solutions for start-ups to benefit from their presence on our platform,” informs Mr Labin.

Replying more pointedly to why businesses are turning to Facebook to grow, he remarks, “There are three key reasons to that. First, we are simple to use – Facebook’s tools are easier than ever to use. Of newly acquired advertisers in Q4 2014, 80 per cent used our easiest ad tools, particularly promoted posts. Second, we are mobile. The consumer shift to mobile is making more business owners want to use Facebook’s mobile tools to reach customers and manage their businesses. For instance, over 15 million SMBs use our Pages Manager app to manage their Pages on mobile. Finally, we are effective. Facebook has proven to businesses that our ads work, and we want to make sure that every dollar they spend with us improves their bottomline. Tools like conversion tracking have accelerated better measurement for SMBs.”

Focus Africa – The Next Frontier
More than 100 million people are active on Facebook in Africa, which is more than 50 per cent of the people that are on the internet. To that effect, Facebook has already made inroads in the fast growth market. “Plus the shift to mobile is significant. And Africa is mobile, with more than 80 per cent of people coming back to Facebook on mobile across the continent,” Mr Labin comments.

He points out that the fragmented environment in Africa makes it difficult for businesses to reach people with valuable experiences on their mobile devices. He says, “With millions of people quickly coming online in high-growth countries, all on mobile, Facebook is building new ways to connect to this massive audience to allow advertisers to reach exactly the people who matter to them, and build what matters, on mobile.”

FB’s Q4 2014 MENA Numbers
79 million monthly active people, 7% growth in three months
82 per cent monthly active people access via mobile
46 million daily active people, 7% growth in three months
80 per cent daily active people access via mobile 


Mobile, Relevance, Storytelling: FB’s 2015 Focus Areas
Within the advertising sector on Facebook, the company’s goal is to capitalize the shift to mobile, increasing the number of marketers using its ads products. In addition to this, Mr Labin highlights good user experience by making ads relevant and building on the progress made on its core ad products, as well as with newer areas like video, Instagram and advertising technology.

Facebook has seen evolution in its storytelling towards more visual content, especially with videos. “We have recently recorded a growth of an average of more than three billion video views daily on Facebook globally, plus there are more than two billion interactions every week on Facebook between public figures and their fans. We have the largest, most engaged audience in the world with 1 billion searches every day on Facebook and around 2 billion photos shared across our apps. We know that the best stories from advertisers are the ones that are told in the same way people prefer to create and consume content. We will continue to partner with agencies and brands around the world to help them grow their business on Facebook and Instagram,” Mr Labin informs.

The Approach to Innovation
In addition to relevance, Facebook’s people-first strategy is also about bringing value to people. The company looks at three ways in which it thinks about innovation.

The first is Facebook’s key pillar – News Feed. “News Feed is a personalized newspaper for each person on Facebook. At any given time, a person can see more than 2,000 stories – and the better we get at predicting what is most interesting and relevant, the better
the experience will be for that individual,” Mr Labin elaborates. The second on the list is the multi-app strategy, which bears in mind that people text, share photos and videos, connect with the people who matter most to them, and discover new information in a lot of different ways. As a result, FB teams build new experiences on Facebook, working on products such as Groups and Messenger, and on integrating new products, like WhatsApp, into Facebook’s family of brands.

And finally, the future of communication, where considering that technology will constantly evolve, Facebook is investing in the next platforms, such as virtual reality.

Three Questions To Jonathan Labin On MENA Market Dynamics, Political Instability & The Arab Consumer
Despite changing consumer habits and MENA markets leading digital trends, ad spends on digital are still very low in the region. How do you see this changing?

The Middle East’s digital ad market has been growing tremendously over the past few years, and will continue to expand in the coming years because it is where consumers are spending the vast majority of their time. TV was the discovery medium of the past 50 years but mobile feeds are the discovery engine of today. That is why the digital ad spend, in the region is gradually gaining momentum, and we have seen a lot of brands venturing into the digital medium for advertising. Recently, a renowned group of digital professionals forecasted a digital ad spend in MENA to cross the USD 1 billion mark by 2017. This fact indicates that the digital market is undergoing a phenomenal growth and change. People are accepting this medium of advertising and benefiting from it too, with social media playing a significant role.

The region has witnessed political instability in some of its key markets. What are the challenges or opportunities that this poses for a player such as Facebook?
Social media is definitely an integral part of most people in the Arab region; the governing bodies understand this trend. While they consider social media to play a role in many political issues, they also see this as an opportunity to engage with their citizens, utilizing social media, as it is by far one of the best tools of direct communications with constituents. Social media, especially Facebook, give the people the ability to engage in discussions, and present opinions.

What are some of the factors you keep in mind while addressing Arab audiences?
It is imperative to offer marketers with solutions that are customized to their target audiences. Understanding the culture and trends of people in the Arab World can lead to a successful campaign. For this effect, Facebook works with marketers to develop storylines that are identifiable to people in the region and its unique culture.

This article was published in The Arabian Marketer February print issue. 
To get your own copy, please email to marketing@arabianmarketer.ae

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