How Facebook plans to woo 3 billion people in emerging markets

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The social media giant makes plans to grow in undeveloped countries and attract ad spending

It is telling that Facebook's announcement of a three-step plan to dominate emerging markets comes around the same time its founder and CEO Mark Zuckerburg was in India declaring it the company’s most important market.

Last week, the company rolled out Slideshow, a new lightweight ad format that is meant to render across devices, bringing video to low-bandwidth emerging markets.

Slideshow promises to reduce the need for video production time and resources as businesses can use their own images or simply pull stock imagery from Facebook’s library. With the latest offering, a 15-second slideshow can be up to five times smaller in file size than a video of the same length.

Within the region, the new format has been used by Reckitt Benckiser's Dettol in Indonesia to extend the reach of a video campaign. The CPG giant used the social network’s device and bandwidth targeting feature to deliver a Slideshow ad to people on lower-connectivity devices.

During the launch event — live streamed from Facebook's Menlo Park and London offices — the team stressed the importance of connecting the next billion users, primarily in the emerging markets of India and Africa. At stake is 85% of the world’s population and 3 billion potential users outside the BRIC markets that contribute 60% of GDP growth.

Speaking on its emerging market push, Facebook shared the firm’s three-pronged approach to tapping and monetizing these high-growth economies.

Reaching everyone
About two-and-a-half years ago, Facebook had a "small, scrappy" team working on an emerging-market push and building foundational products that enabled brands to reach people on feature phones. Now the social network is working hard to reach everyone and take on the onus of creating products that render "natively and beautifully."

Reaching everyone across any level of connectivity
"We’ve needed to learn how to build products that work in no-connectivity conditions," said Tom Alison, engineering director, emerging markets. To achieve that, Facebook sent its engineers to different places to do field research and collect diagnostics of how networks perform in these markets.

An outcome of this can be seen in lower-bandwidth regions where the Facebook application prioritizes displaying stories that the user is currently looking at as opposed to loading all newsfeed content at once.

Nikhila Srinivasan, director of emerging markets monetization, said Facebook has now built the ability to target people based on their connectivity at a time when they would find it most engaging.

How and when people want to connect
For the team, it was really obvious that mobile and video were exploding. Most people who come online watch at least one video a day, and that is an "incredible opportunity" for Facebook, according to the company. "As a product organization we want to make videos easily discoverable," Srinivasan said. "However, as an emerging markets team we do recognize that producing a video requires effort and we want to find quick and cost effective solutions for small businesses."

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