Facebook achieving worldwide growth through feature phones

Facebook is a growing force on mobile — and it has nothing to do with Facebook Home, iOS, Android, BlackBerry or Windows Phone. More than 100 million people check Facebook using the feature phone application Facebook for Every Phone, and this is largely responsible for the company’s popularity in emerging markets.

Even more surprisingly, people in these countries want what many U.S. and U.K. users shunned — a “Facebook phone.” As Facebook Home largely flopped as people misunderstood its use and purpose, Vasileios Tziokas, the Marketing & PR Manager for mobile monetization firm Upstream, told Inside Facebook that people in emerging markets would love to have a Facebook-specialized feature phone. A recent poll by Upstream says that 31 percent of people surveyed in these areas want a feature phone designed by Facebook.

While Facebook for Every Phone is wildly popular, Tziokas also said that many people use Facebook Zero, which uses SMS texting to update Facebook accounts. He noted that while Western countries have several messaging apps, such as Facebook Messenger and Snapchat, people in emerging countries primarily rely on SMS to communicate with others. According to Upstream’s research, 1 in 10 Facebook feature phone users are happy with just the text-only Facebook Zero program.

Since internet connection is spotty in these areas, mobile is the primary way that users in countries such as Nigeria, Malaysia and Indonesia check Facebook. The company’s latest mobile-only numbers show that an increasing amount of users only engage with Facebook through their phones — more than doubling in the past year.

Tziokas said that Facebook is a trusted brand in emerging markets, and people have more faith in the company in these countries, compared to the U.S. and U.K. Whereas people in more developed countries have another way to check Facebook — desktop — those in other countries primarily connect to the social network through their feature phones, as the latest smartphone technology isn’t always available. Tziokas noted that feature phone users in this country are actually more agreeable to seeing ads in their News Feed, since it is the only way they have to check Facebook:

Their only window to the internet is on mobile, because desktop penetration is really, really low. They’re much more open to receiving advertising. The other interesting thing is that Facebook is being regarded and considered a very trustworthy brand in emerging markets, which again, is not the case in the West. If you ask the typical American consumer, “What do you think about Facebook?” The most usual answer is, “It’s a very useful tool, and I use it for my friends and family, but I’m fed up with advertising.” But this is not the case in emerging markets. People love Facebook.

People there trust Facebook. They see it as a window to the world.

Upstream’s newest research in mobile usage in emerging markets shows that people in these areas love using phones to connect with friends and relatives and to gain more information. Tziokas said Facebook is used much as CEO Mark Zuckerberg hopes — like a personalized newspaper.

Through the app, users in emerging markets can learn more about what their friends and relatives are doing across the country, as well as connect with trusted news sources to learn more about what’s going on in the world. 70 percent of those polled said they use their mobile phone to check social media, with the highest concentration coming in Nigeria (78 percent) and India (70 percent). Additionally, 41 percent of people polled in India said they would welcome a phone designed for social media use.

Facebook understands this and Tziokas noted that the company has been working with mobile providers to develop solutions that allow users to check Facebook without eating up too much data (a major reason why Facebook Zero is still used).

So if Facebook did want to create a true “Facebook Home,” it could probably have more success using a feature phone as the platform.