The global roll out of a new, less data-heavy Facebook for Android phones will help marketers better tap consumers across regions with limited Internet connectivity.
The global launch of Facebook Lite for android users will give advertisers greater access to consumers in developing regions across Asia, especially in India and Indonesia, experts say.
The new app runs on less than one megabyte of data, reducing installation and load times, but still gives users access to news feed, status updates, photos and notifications. For marketers, it opens a new avenue to reach consumers in both rural and urban areas where 3G and 4G networks are either limited or expensive.
A Facebook spokesperson confirmed to ClickZ that users would be able to see some ads on Facebook Lite. "But right now we're focused on creating the best user experience, and will continue to improve the experience based on feedback we gather from people using Facebook Lite," she said.
A lighter version of Facebook will mean better relationships between brands and consumers. "This isn't just about reaching out to new users but making it easier for advertisers as well," says Madan Sanglikar, co-founder and managing director for Indonesia at mobile marketing agency, Affle.
"This is an aggressive step and no other app has taken such a measure to reach out to users in this way," he says. "It's a very bold move and comes from a strong understanding of the markets."
The new Facebook Lite platform currently supports 51 languages and will give users access to a mostly full Facebook experience. But features such as video, which requires faster connections and uses more data, may not be available, which means that although brands will have to create different content for different connections, reach will be far greater.
"This is a new opportunity (Read more...) content coming in, since we now have two Facebook opportunities [for Android]," says Sanglikar. "While videos may not be preferred for such devices, sponsored posts and suggested apps will really work well, and these are the best performing units for Facebook already."
Sanglikar also believes the new platform will open up new opportunities for access to user data.
"Data aspects will be similar to the Facebook prime app and will be governed by Facebook’s policies, but if the social network can allow marketers to choose between the "Prime" and the "Lite" apps, or allocating a percentage of their budget to these two versions, that will be a significant step for marketers," he says.
Thailand, Cambodia and Pakistan are the first markets to gain access to Facebook Lite, with other countries in Asia likely to have access over the coming weeks followed by parts of Latin America, Africa and Europe.
The tool will be particularly welcome in developing markets such as India and Indonesia which both have high Facebook penetration, large numbers of Android phone users and limited Internet infrastructure beyond key urban centers.
"With over 100 percent mobile penetration, this is fantastic news for Indonesia," says Irfan Mulla, head of Tribal Worldwide Indonesia. "This move will benefit lower income groups in Indonesian cities who are active users of Facebook, and the small cities where e-commerce companies are also recognizing this potential and trying to work on better connectivity."
A lighter version of Facebook could mean less expensive data packages, which will also increase Facebook's user base. "In a number of markets across Asia, telecommunication providers have been selling data packages by bundling Facebook, but Facebook Lite could mean even cheaper data packages for consumers in these markets, so mobile data users could shoot up significantly with this entry point," he adds.
More than a billion people around the world access Facebook from a range of mobile devices on varying networks, says Vijay Shankar, product manager for Facebook Lite, and Asia is one of the social media platforms fastest growing markets.
Those rising numbers make Asia increasingly important to Facebook advertisers. For example, India is set to surpass the U.S. next year as the largest population of mobile phone Facebook users at 155.4 million. Indonesia is the third largest market for mobile Facebook users worldwide, with eMarketer expecting it to reach 72.3 million next year.
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