Facebook EMEA VP admits it initially 'failed to understand' the importance of mobile

“With Facebook, prime-time is all of the time,” the social media giant's vice president of EMEA Nicola Mendelsohn said on Thursday while comparing the figures for the platform to those of the most-watched TV programmes - while also admitting that the company initially moved too slowly to adopt its now vital mobile approach.

Going mobile: Mendelsohn was speaking at IAB Engage in London

Speaking at IAB Engage, Mendelsohn spoke about the future of modern technology and the place that Facebook had within that as an advertising platform, with a focus on mobile - but admitted that Facebook almost missed the boat.

“If you want to reach out and connect with digitally connected customers you have got to put mobile at the centre of your strategy. While there is no question that mobile disrupts, it also creates a significant opportunity for advertisers,” she said.

“If we're honest, we failed to understand what it meant for our business when smartphones and tablets outsold PCs for the first time in Q4 of 2011, but like the best advertisers we were quick to realise our mistakes and when we realised that we were not exploiting mobile we re-orientated the entire business to focus on mobile. That meant every single engineer had to learn to code and to do code on mobile.”

Within 18 months of making that decision, Facebook's mobile revenue had grown to 40 per cent, she added.

She cited the statistics that there were more mobiles in the world than toothbrushes and that there were 1.5 billion smartphones globally - more than there were people in China - with faster growth of adoption taking place in the UK. Mendelsohn said that 51 per cent of people now owned a smartphone in the UK, while one third of the population will own a tablet by the end of the year with penetration doubling in the last 12 months.

As a result, mobile is “revolutionising” media consumption, she stated, with opportunities for advertisers to connect with their audiences at any time or place.

She went on to highlight the growth of the internet in comparison with TV viewing, with people in the US forecast to spend more time online this year than watching TV.

“We've reached an inflection point of societal change,” she said, before comparing the current trend with the 1950s when the advent of television overtook radio.

“Facebook is privileged to be a part of the seismic shift that is happening” she continued, revealing that the platform now had over 1.1 billion users, 699 million users returning daily, 469 million logging in on a daily basis and an average user checking the app 14 times a day.

In the UK, she said that 20 million people were logging in through mobile each day – a figure higher than the viewing for the UK's top two programmes combined - and a daily audience, including desktop, of over 24 million, more than the TV audience for the Olympics closing ceremony.

Another statistic saw Mendelsohn claim that one in four minutes were spent on Facebook or Instagram globally, before she moved on to discuss Newsfeed.

“One of the most common conversations we have seen this year was about brands, especially on shopping at seasonal times,” she said, using the US market as an example when the millions of conversations witnessed during Black Friday saw one in six posts reference a specific brand.

“There is £44bn being spent by people online who don't even know what they want to buy - just think what that means for brands... if you aren't moving to digital and mobile then you aren't where it matters. If you aren't reaching people where it matters, then you won't matter.”

She cited Facebook brand campaigns by Zaggora, the online hot pants company and the Pepsi Max campaigns run through Facebook as success stories, claiming that Zaggora had generated over half a million customers in two years and that Pepsi saw its Dynamo magician campaign played around two million times, shared 600,000 times. Mendelsohn claimed that this was a higher audience than Sky's best watched football game of that weekend, valued at 4p per view.

It is clear that mobile should not be a separate strategy,” she admitted, “but central to your strategy. From your bedroom, to your bathroom, to your workplace, mobile is now the first screen in our lives and the technology is going to change so much that the things that we are talking about now will soon be obsolete, but what is not going to change is people, and their need to connect and their need for relationships, both with each other and with brands.

“The most successful advertisers will continue to be those with the common touch," she added, before continuing to highlight the inevitable evolution of technology, which will innovate beyond all recognition between the next five and 50 years.

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