Facebook has taken a bold stride towards making its mark in Africa by appointing a South African advertising veteran to spearhead its first African office in Johannesburg.
The appointment has certainly received a nod of approval from those championing equality, but Nunu Ntshingila-Njeke is not a quota placeholder.
Facebook will look to penetrate the African market fast and furiously – it’s not personal; it’s business. Ntshingila-Njeke has got the goods to make it happen.
Earlier this week, Facebook announced her appointment as the new head of Africa.
Those who keep tabs on the creative world will not be surprised by the move. Ntshingila-Njeke has made a name for herself as a heavyweight in the advertising arena, having worked her way up from being a trainee account manager.
She graduated from the University of Swaziland with a Bachelor of Arts, from Morgan State University in the US with a master of business administration and from AAA School of Advertising in Johannesburg with a diploma in advertising.
Her accolades include nominations for Businesswoman of the Year Award (2003), being a finalist for the Shoprite Checkers/SABC Woman of the Year Award (2004), becoming Financial Mail’s Advertising Leader of the Year, and winning Business Personality of the Year at the Top Women in Business and Government Awards, to name a few.
While Ntshingila-Njeke has been convincing Africans to buy all sorts of things for more than 20 years, she will contend with the continent-wide challenge of the cost of accessing the internet, along with its lack of accessibility in some regions.
According to Bloomberg, two-fifths of America’s population is on Facebook. Of Africa’s more than 1 billion people, only 120 million are on Facebook.
This means that Facebook may be sitting on a gold mine if it can manage to tap into the market. Given the company’s success abroad, there is no doubt that where there is a will, there is a way, but it will take some time and a lot of innovative gimmicks to get it right.
In short, there are a series of hurdles that Ntshingila-Njeke and her team will have to find a way around, and they are challenges that Facebook will not have faced before. Apart from high data costs, Africans are yet to consider data a need, which means that other things are prioritised. As a result, infrastructure that supports the internet often takes a back seat to the building of hospitals, schools and other essentials.
In addition to the shift that will have to take place, Africans have significantly less disposable income, feature phones take prominence over smartphones and network connectivity is problematic. So not only will the Africa team have to convince Africans to buy into the product, but they will have to kiss up to government, find ways to partner with service providers and make serious changes to the Facebook design itself so that it is compatible with feature phones.
There is already talk of Facebook Lite, which is a low-bandwidth app that uses significantly less data than the standard application.
With what is known about Ntshingila-Njeke, Facebook is off to a good start, but concrete results will only be seen once she takes over in September, when her tenure as chair of Ogilvy & Mather comes to an end