Facebook vp/global marketing solutions Carolyn Everson led a lively panel on social media advertising at Business Insider's Ignition 2012 conference last week. So we used the opportunity to ask her where Facebook's growth is going to come from in 2013.
Famously, its user base — after topping a staggering 1 billion people — is slowing down. Any reduction in users or their growth, obviously, threatens the company's revenues and its ability to attract advertisers.
Surprisingly, Everson told us that the user story wasn't over, and that, basically we should hang on to our hats.
There's lots of growth to be had in Asia and India, where Facebook has hardly any members, she says. "Hardly any," is of course a relative term for countries like China and India, which both have populations of 1 billion or more. Everson recently returned from a trip to Asia to promote Facebook to brands like Suntory, one of Japan's largest advertisers.
"There's over a billion people in India, we're are 65 million [there] today." Everson says. "Southeast Asia we're at 56 million. These are some of the world's largest markets. We haven't entered China. We have enormous growth ahead of us."
So where does the user base top out?
"I don't know where the user base tops out, but I do know we have a heck of a lot of growth ahead of us when you think about the market that we literally just entered," she says. "90 percent of the population lives in non-Western countries. There is an awful lot of people in the rest of the world that believe Facebook is equivalent to the Internet. When they buy a feature phone, their objective is to connect to the Internet and the first thing they do is connect through Facebook."
Everson says that in foreign countries most people see Facebook on "feature phones" — the old fashioned flip- and candy-bar type phones that are sometimes referred to as "dumbphones" in the West.
"The feature phone is the predominant way people are reaching us in several of the emerging markets. Clearly mostly in northern Africa, that's how they're reaching us, many of the countries in the Middle East, India, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, those are mostly feature phones market," Everson says. "There are 5 billion mobile phones today. Smartphones are accelerating very, very quickly, but we are the No.1 feature phone app and the number one app on iOs and Android."
If 90 percent of people don't live in the U.S., that would imply an almost a doubling of the user base. But Everson demurs on specific numbers:
"Well the population [of Earth] is, what, 7 billion? So we have a ways to go."
Disclosure: The author owns Facebook stock.
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