Facebook is opening an office in an affluent suburb of Johannesburg next month, as the social network looks to reach more users on the continent.
North America has a population of about 500 million, and two-fifths of them are on Facebook.
The sales office will be headed by Nunu Ntshingila, 51, chairman of WPP’s Ogilvy & Mather agency in South Africa, who will oversee Facebook’s business in the region.
“This is one of the places where our next billion users are coming from,” said Nicola Mendelsohn, Facebook’s vice president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. “It would be a massive missed opportunity. Africa matters.”
To win over consumers concerned about the cost of data or who live in areas with lousy signals, Facebook is partnering with mobile-phone companies to offer what it calls Internet.org, which gives people free airtime when they access Facebook and a few dozen other selected websites.
The firm will soon introduce Facebook Lite, a low-bandwidth app that uses just a fraction of the data of the standard application.
For the world’s largest social network, Africa holds vast potential. Facebook has been blocked by China’s censors since 2009, and in Russia it trails local sites such as VKontakte and Odnoklassniki. As sales growth slows, Facebook is working to broaden the reach of its advertisements, which generate more than 90pc of its revenue.