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Facebook. Instagram users in the Middle East and Africa use the site in some surprisingly different ways

We recently sat down with Facebook’s VP of Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, Nicola Mendelsohn.

During her two years at Facebook, she has spent a lot of time visiting the different regions she is responsible for and discovering how people in the Middle East and Africa in particular are using Facebook in really novel ways.

Here are some of the examples she shared (and some we’ve gathered through our own research):

Many people in the Middle East and Africa have skipped desktop altogether


Sayyid Abdul Azim/APCustomers are assisted with money transfers at an M-Pesa counter in Nairobi, Kenya. A mobile-phone-banking service called M-Pesa allows people without a bank account to transfer money between phones instantly anywhere in the country.

Facebook now has 191 million users in the Middle East and Africa, 85% of who are visiting via mobile.

Mendelsohn described what a difference that makes: “I was in Nairobi, Kenya, earlier this year and their whole payment system there is mobile. M-Pesa is unbelievable. So you can be walking down the streets of a market, and the market will be no different to something that you could have been in a thousand years ago, but everyone is trading by using their mobile phone. And you kind of go, ‘well how come I can go shopping on the streets of London and it’s unfathomable [to be able to do that]?’ So there’s a lot we can learn from being over there.”

A woman in Kenya is growing her fashion business on Instagram


On the Kenya trip, Mendelsohn met a woman called Isabella who runs a fashion business called Fashion254.

She’s using Instagram to actively sell her dresses, even though Instagram advertising hasn’t been brought to the region yet. Isabella’s Instagram bio asks shoppers to call or Whatsapp her to arrange delivery.

Meanwhile, farmers in Kuwait have been using Instagram to sell sheep

sheeps sell kuwaitBrilliant Social Media

When we last interviewed Mendelsohn back in 2013, she told us how farmers in Kuwait — a big importer of livestock — had been using Instagram to sell sheep.

The (now inactive) account @sheeps_sell had amassed 2,500 followers.

Women in Saudi Arabia have used Facebook as a means to export their goods overseas

gloworkFacebook/GloworkGlowork is an organization that aims to bring empowerment to women and increase diversity in the Saudi workforce.


Mendelsohn told us she met a number of female entrepreneurs in Saudi Arabia through an organization called Glowork. They’re using Facebook as way to sell their products.

“There are very different rules and laws within that country, and they have found the internet as a way of connecting to the world. They have found Facebook as a way to connect with their friends, families, businesses they are interested in. So what they talked about was that Facebook gave them a gateway to the world that they wouldn’t have had otherwise.” Mendelsohn added that these users are using Facebook to help export their goods overseas.

Putting the trend of dropped calls to India to good use

facebook missed callFacebookA Facebook “missed call” ad from Garnier Men India.

In India and other developing countries, people often call their friends or family and hang up immediately after the first ring — a dropped call — to say hello, or let them know they want a call back. It saves on their phone credit and lets their family know they’re safe.

So in 2014, Facebook introduced “missed call” units in India. When a user in India sees an ad on Facebook they can place a “missed call,” by clicking that ad from their mobile. In return, they’ll receive a call such as music, cricket scores, or messages from celebrities, from the advertiser.

People in the Middle East are the biggest users of Facebook Groups

facebook middle east groupFacebook

Back in 2013, Mendelsohn told us that people in the Middle East were the most likely users to be members of Facebook Groups.

Facebook Groups have been around for a while — they’re more akin to message boards. But many people stopped using them once Pages became the predominant way to follow celebrities, artists, movies, and brands.

Video is huge — even for users that have slower internet connections

nestleFacebookNestle Everyday’s Facebook ad campaign in India.

More than 50% of people on Facebook in the UK, Israel, and the UAE watch a video on the site every day. Meanwhile, people in the Middle East now consume more video per person than any other region in the world, Facebook says.

Facebook recently introduced a new feature that lets advertisers target mobile users with photos or video ads, depending on their device and connection speed. Nestle Everyday ran a campaign recently in India to connect with people across rural (photo ads) and metro areas (video ads.) Facebook said compared with other similar campaigns for the brand in the region, this one increased brand awareness by 9% and purchase intent by 5%.

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Written by How Africa

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