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INTERVIEW: Facebook ME says, ‘Everything is going to become social’


Jonathan Labin, head of operations, Facebook MENA, speaks to Kipp about its mobile mantra, the value of recommendations and the social landscape in the region.

September 5, 2012 5:01 by

Facebook has announced heavy investments in the mobile space globally. What are its plans for mobile in the UAE and the rest of the Middle East?
More than 50% of Facebook users access it via mobile phones in the Middle East. We just announced the new app for IOS and m.facebook is still how most people access Facebook here. In North Africa, where smartphone penetration is not as high, we offer various phone applications for Facebook. Mobile is really important for us as a company and what we are doing globally in the mobile space is even more relevant in the MENA region.

Our recently launched sponsored stories on mobile are a great opportunity for social media marketers – the engagement rates are extremely high and its great real estate. So far, the feedback from clients and users has been very encouraging in this region.

Jobseekers and recruiters are heavily using social networks such as LinkedIn in this region, particularly in the UAE. Facebook too, has third party apps such as GlassDoor and BranchOut that aim to tap this market. What is your take on the social recruitment trend?
The amount of information that flows to us every day, increases exponentially but our processing power, however, has a cap. We need some kind of mechanism to filter all that information and decide what’s best for us. That mechanism is in the form of  ‘Facebook friends’ who can recommend, suggest  and help us make decisions. Recommendations from friends on social media help us choose what products to buy, which restaurants to go to and even who to hire! These recommendations have incredible value and that’s why they are being used more and more today, especially in recruitment.

Going forward, I think everything will become more social in the near future- media, and TV too, because by adding that social element, everything becomes more valuable. Even we use recommendations on social media to recruit and it has turned out well- great colleagues! [Laughs]

Over 83 million Facebook accounts are deemed to be fake – they could be duplicate accounts, user misclassified accounts or bots. How is Facebook planning on rectifying this problem, as it interferes with targeted advertising?
We find that some users with multiple accounts or accounts with different name have no malicious intent- They create multiple profiles with different names without considering the ramifications so we are aiming to educate them and make these users comply with our policies.

One way to rectify the problem, as I mentioned, is education but for bot accounts, another measure we’ve undertaken is in the form of  a better automated system to eliminate fake  accounts.

We are also doing research with the likes of Nielsen and Comscore to find out if we’re reaching the people that we intend to. We found that Facebook  targeted advertising is much more accurate – its 95% on FB (broad targeting) v/s  73% on other platforms. When it comes to narrow targeting we are even better placed at 90% on Facebook v/s 35% elsewhere.

Which are the top growth markets for Facebook as of 2012?

Some markets are growing faster than others- like India, which came to Facebook relatively recently and is growing at extremely fast. Overall we’ve grown worldwide- I can’t breakdown the Middle East, but the feedback has been very positive. There have also been investments in Arabic language for the MENA region to make sure we connect with users and marketers. In India too, we’re investing in regional languages to make sure we stay relevant.

What do you make of the news that LinkedIn is the next global social media giant to set up shop in Dubai?
I’m not surprised at all- the Middle East is becoming an important market from a technology point of view, social media point of view, and from the media point of view in general. The economic outlook is relatively positive here, as opposed to other parts of the world so it’s not a big surprise.  It’s great to see more international players here.  Dubai in particular, has a lot to offer- great infrastructure, lots of international digital companies as well as advertising and media agencies makes an ecosystem which is conducive for businesses like us.

What is your assessment of the social media marketing in this region so far?
I see a lot of potential growth, in a nutshell. If you think about the size of the ad pie compared to the population in the MENA region, its very small on an ad spend- per capita basis and that’s one of the reasons it will grow considerably. Within that pie, digital advertising is also extremely small so I believe it has immense potential to grow here.

What is the update on Facebook Exchange, the live bidding of Facebook ads? When will it be rolled out in the Middle East?
We’ve started to look into this with some of the global partners and a few partners here in the Middle East.  The platform will improve further, the ability to target the right audience. Facebook does not have a launch date for the MENA yet but it will be rolled out soon.

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