Today’s initial public offering (IPO, or first stock exchange listing) of Facebook, the popular social network, is this year’s most exciting share listing in America. The pre-eminent social network’s public trading of shares will make its founders very rich, but what does it mean in a South African context?
South Africans were early Facebook adopters, with the country quickly rising up the ranks of new Facebook registrations during specifically 2008 to 2010. Today South Africa, with almost 4.6m people on Facebook, is listed as country number 34 out of 213 tracked. This position puts South Africa ahead of Portugal (36), Nigeria (38), Switzerland (49), Denmark (50) and New Zealand (58), but below Australia (19), Poland (25) and The Netherlands (27).
But why should we be interested in today’s big social listing? Here are five reasons to ponder.
1. Exposure to Facebook through a Naspers investment
The South African media giant Naspers (NPN), through its clever investment in Mail.ru Group owns a fairly interesting indirect stake in Facebook. Before Facebook’s listing Mail.ru Group’s holding in Facebook was estimated to be around 2.5%. (Naspers owns 30% of Mail.ru Group through its MIH Russia Internet BV investment vehicle.) Depending on how this holding is impacted upon after Facebook’s listing, the company could benefit over the longer term from any capital growth in the value of its investment, as well as from future dividend payouts.
Although the Naspers share price has generally risen sharply over the last few months, South Africans keen for exposure to its investments in Mail.ru Group (Facebook), as well as Chinese internet giant Tencent, could still see proper value going forward. (Tencent released strong numbers this week.)
Some analysts therefore believe buying Naspers shares is a good way to benefit from both its Facebook exposure and its other diversified, global investments in internet businesses (in addition to pay TV operation MultiChoice locally).
2. Buying Facebook advertising directly
With an audience size of close to five million people in South Africa, buying targeted display advertising from Facebook directly is viable locally. It’s really easy to to run a professional advertising campaign on Facebook (for South Africa or other countries) yourself, simply by using a credit card and some basic knowledge. (You do not need a media planning agency to help, although they can offer valuable additional consulting services.)
General Motors (GM) revealed earlier this week that it has stopped its Facebook advertising (perhaps just for now ), but that it will continue to use its various Facebook Pages and applications to engage its audience via brand content engagement. (This move may or may not deter others from advertising on Facebook, even though GM reckons its ads on Facebook did not work for them.)
Locally, companies with Facebook Pages have mainly used advertising to drive Likes to their pages. Facebook clearly still needs to prove its effectiveness in direct selling, as Google has already done with AdWords.
But with Facebook’s IPO comes huge capitalisation. The company will use at least some of this new money to invest further in the development of better advertising opportunities and metrics to deliver increasingly refined and targeted ads. All advertisers on Facebook should benefit over time from such new innovations, especially if targeted attention (read: sales) can more clearly be demonstrated.
3. Knowledge transfer
Only somewhat surprisingly a number of South Africans already work at Facebook in California (and elsewhere). Having locals exposed to the coal face of the company’s increasingly global efforts can translate into at least some of these skills being transferred here. (We just need to lure these experts back!)
4. Mobile is increasingly where it’s at
Facebook has so far not been great at developing its mobile applications. With the additional capital from its IPO it will surely invest in the creation of a better mobile experience (for tablets and phones), that more closely resemble a computer browsing experience. (Its massive purchase of Instagram attests to this strategy.)
South African mobile data usage for, amongst other uses, social access is now skyrocketing. Therefore the better Facebook’s mobile applications become, the more South Africans will use mobile social access more frequently. This means Facebook has strong growth prospects here, especially via mobile access.
5. Social creep
Creepy as it may be, social is increasingly ingrained into the South African consciousness, in the same way mobile already is. Basically this means however “irritating” it is for others, “being on your phone” busily creating your own social graph will only increase.
With more money available to invest in even more social and advertising solutions, especially for mobile, Facebook creep will only increase.
To paraphrase Margo Channing (Bette Davis) in All About Eve: “Buckle your seatbelts; It’s going to be a social night!”