With its many recent forays into the mobile space, starting with the Facebook for Every Phone app, and followed by Facebook Messenger, Facebook Home, HTC First, the numerous data access partnerships with various carriers, and the newest integration with the Asha OS, the social networking giant has been taking some major steps in provide its services across devices, regions and platforms, ensuring a large part of its massive userbase is connected on-the-go.
We decided to speak with Facebook about its plans in the mobile space, and had the opportunity to put our questions to Kevin D’Souza, Country Growth Manager, Facebook India, who leads the mobile partnership and growth strategy in the country.
1. Why is Facebook focussing on feature phones (like Asha OS-based devices), when the future is clearly in smartphones? How much of a priority are feature phones for Facebook?
Facebook has 78 million monthly active users in India and we believe that the next billion Facebook users are going to come through mobile.
According to a study by CyberMedia Research, the Indian mobile handset market is still dominated by feature phones whose sales grew 19.9 per cent to 206.4 million in 2012. We have never been more excited about our mission of making the world more open and connected. There are approximately 5.5 million people who are still not online and we need to connect the un-connected. Devices like the new Nokia Asha 501 phone which is preloaded with Facebook, are proof that affordable devices are coming to these markets now. And with low price points these handsets are becoming the first Internet connected device many people will own.
2. Apart from Nokia (and its new Asha OS), which other manufacturers and platforms are you planning to partner with, to offer a similar level of Facebook-integration?
We are collaborating with device manufacturers to preload the Facebook mobile application not only on smartphones but also on feature phones. We have partnerships with major global as well as local brands such as Nokia, Micromax and Lava to make sure that the right Facebook experience is preloaded on their devices.
3. What is the future of mobile social networking, and social networking overall, according to you?
With increasing mobile internet penetration, mobile social networking will be an integral part of society. At Facebook, we help people connect across platforms with features including chat, messaging, email, SMS and Groups. We want our users to have access to information and be able to reach anyone they want.
A report by Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and IMRB states that number of mobile internet users is expected to grow further to 130.6 million (by March 2014) and 164.8 million by March 2015 which itself explains the increasing database of people accessing internet through mobile devices.
We are also witnessing people signing up to Facebook accounts with their phone numbers and not really through email addresses, though we have both the options. These are people who probably don’t even have an email address. Recently, we have realised that out of every 5 minutes, mobile users spend 1 minute on Facebook.
4. How has been the experience of dealing with Indian mobile carriers for free/unlimited data access partnerships? How important are these partnerships for reaching out to your users especially in regions with limited connectivity?
Today, customers are shifting to a plan that allows data access. People are upgrading their phones and data plans to access Facebook at their ease. This opens huge opportunity for operators and handset manufacturers to acquire/ retain customers by offering the Facebook experience in a relevant and integrated way.
In developing countries such as India, SMS is one of the most popular mobile phone features, yet it doesn’t take advantage of the capabilities of today’s devices and networks. With the new Messenger app, the reach will spread out not just to people on Facebook, but to everyone. The new messenger app helps more people connect on mobile by giving them the ability to send and receive messages through any phone without having a Facebook account. At the Mobile World Congress, held earlier this year, we announced our partnership with Airtel and Reliance in India to provide free and discounted data access to Facebook messaging for their subscribers. Through these operator and handset manufacturer partnerships, we aim to reach out to regions where network is an issue.
5. What opportunities does mobile create for Facebook?
The proliferation of mobile devices is expanding the market of people who can use Facebook and simultaneously driving deeper engagement with our product. Today over 751 million people use Facebook on a mobile device each month, and 70% of them return to Facebook every day compared to 40% of desktop users. To bring powerful social experiences to more people around the world, we're working across the entire mobile industry- with operators, hardware manufacturers, OS providers, and application developers. We’re very excited about the opportunity to bring millions of additional people online via Facebook through these joint efforts.
6. Is having multiple apps for a single platform a strategy for Facebook (e.g., Facebook Messenger and Facebook app in iOS both featuring the same functionality)? Will there ever be a single app for all functions?
We are a mobile-first company and innovate constantly to improve the mobile experience across all devices. The idea behind every offering whether it is ‘Facebook for every phone app’, Facebook Messenger or Facebook Home, is to connect people in a most convenient manner possible and create an ecosystem for users to provide an improved Facebook experience.
Home is the first example of a new and different Facebook experience built leveraging the openness of Android platform. Similarly, “Facebook for Every Phone” app was built to deliver Smartphone-like Facebook experience on feature phones. In India, the app is available in Hindi and seven other local Indian languages including Gujarati, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, Punjabi, Bengali and Marathi.
7. When do you plan to bring Facebook Messenger and its recently launched chat/IM features to other regions?
Private sharing and connecting is a big part of the Facebook experience. As a communication platform, we help people connect and share knowledge. Facebook and IDC conducted an online survey of 7,446 iPhone and Android smartphone users (in the U.S.) between the ages of 18-44 and the results speaks that 33% of mobile Facebook users message their friends directly, privately each day.
We intend to make the world more connected and Facebook Messenger is an important step in that direction. It’s available to everyone across regions and takes the instant messaging experience to the next level. Today, more than 10 billion messages (According to ComScore, 2013 report) are sent each day through Facebook and we believe that Facebook Messenger app will further help people to connect seamlessly across all platforms and devices.
New features such as chat heads, stickers have added to the Messenger excitement allowing users to stay connected with their friends at all times. Stickers are a way of letting the user free, of the same old smileys and emoticons. The user can use these to spice up the conversations and make them more interesting and fun. Chat heads allows the user to be just one tap away from chatting with friends. The most frequently connected user on Facebook, appears on the home screen inside a circular shape, and does not go away until and unless, it is double tapped upon. Chat Heads make the texting experience quick and easy; it allows the user to switch between friends without having to go on the friend list again and again.
8. Can mobile become a major revenue generator for Facebook?
Mobile is a major source of revenue. Last year, around this time, we had no revenue from mobile and at the end of 2012, 23% of Facebook’s Q4 revenue was generated by mobile ads. Also, since launching mobile app install ads in October, they're already being used by 20% of the top 100 iOS apps to accelerate growth.
9. How do you see Facebook’s mobile strategy evolving in the future?
Today we see ourselves as a true mobile company. Going forward, our mobile experiences will be the best way to use Facebook, we will help mobile developers grow their apps and make them social, and we will develop mobile ad products that allow marketers to reach our unique audience in compelling ways.
Kevin D’Souza, Country Growth Manager, Facebook India